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Smallest Diamonds Make Wires 3 Atoms Wide

Diamonds could power charged-clothing in the future.Diamonds could power charged-clothing in the future.

Scientists at Stanford University and the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have discovered a way to use diamondoids - the smallest possible bits of diamond - to assemble atoms into the thinnest possible electrical wires, just three atoms wide.

By grabbing various types of atoms and putting them together ‘LEGO-style’, the new technique could potentially be used to build tiny wires for a wide range of applications, including fabrics that generate electricity, optoelectronic devices that employ both electricity and light, and superconducting materials that conduct electricity without any loss, Eureka Alert reports.

“What we have shown here is that we can make tiny, conductive wires of the smallest possible size that essentially assemble themselves,” said Hao Yan, a Stanford postdoctoral researcher and lead researcher. “The process is a simple, one-pot synthesis. You dump the ingredients together and you can get results in half an hour. It’s almost as if the diamondoids know where they want to go.”

  Smaller is Better

Although there are other ways to get materials to self-assemble, this is the first one shown to make a nanowire with a solid, crystalline core that has good electronic properties, said study co-author Nicholas Melosh.

The needle-like wires have a semiconducting core - a combination of copper and sulfur known as a chalcogenide - surrounded by the attached diamondoids, which form an insulating shell.

Their minuscule size is important, Melosh said, because a material that exists in just one or two dimensions - as atomic-scale dots, wires or sheets - can have very different, extraordinary properties compared to the same material made in bulk. The new method allows researchers to assemble those materials with atom-by-atom precision and control.

The diamondoids they used as assembly tools are tiny, interlocking cages of carbon and hydrogen. Found naturally in petroleum fluids, they are extracted and separated by size and geometry in the laboratory.

Over the past decade there have been a number of potential uses for the little diamonds, including improving electron microscope images and making tiny electronic gadgets.

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