The first method of controlling the growth of metal-crystals from single atoms has been announced by the UK’s Warwick University.
Known as ‘nanocrystallometry,’ the new process allows for the creation of precise components for use in nanotechnology.
According to Professor Peter Sadler of Warwick’s Chemistry Department the breakthrough ‘allows us to observe and directly control the nano-world in action.’
The method of nanocrystallometry was made possible by state-of-the-art aberration-corrected high-resolution transmission electron microscope, the only such microscope in the UK which has the ability to image individual atoms in this way.
“We know that things are made of atoms, but it is really rare to see them dancing in front of your eyes”, says Dr Richard Beanland from the University’s Department of Physics.
Atoms of the precious metal osmium are slowed down and ‘trapped’ to allow researchers to control and quantify the growth of metal-crystals. When trapped atoms make contact with other atoms they bind together, eventually growing into 3D metal-crystals.
Dr Nicholas Barry commented on the significance of the development in terms of production of materials of the future:
“Tailoring nanoscopic objects is of enormous importance for the production of the materials of the future. Until now the formation of metal nanocrystals, which are essential to those future materials, could not be controlled with precision at the level of individual atoms, under mild and accessible conditions.”
Colleague Professor Sadler comments that the real significance of nanocrystallometry lies in it making possible the growth of metal-crystals which can be as small as only 0.00000015cm wide.
According to Prof.Sadler, if a nanodevice requires a million osmium atoms, then from just 1 gram of osmium a total 400 thousand devices for every person on this earth can be made.
He adds that comparing nanocrystallometry to existing methods of crystal growth show significant improvement in economies and efficiencies in manufacture.
The Fruit of the Nano Tree
Researchers believe that the new method possesses a range of potential from information storage to security nano-patterns.
- building atomic-level electronic circuits
- new nano information storage devices
- potential for use in the biosensing of drugs
- uses in DNA and gases
- creating unique nano-patterns for confidential documents
There could be more uses, as Dr Barry suggests, some yet unknown: “Nanocrystallometry is also an innovative method for producing new metal nano-alloys, and many combinations can be envisaged. They may have very unusual and as yet unexplored properties.”
Warwick Ventures, the university’s commercial arm, has a patent application in place and is seeking industrial partners for future collaboration.
(1) creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by jurvetson: http://flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/6791082