Inspired by the way most solids form in nature, with free-floating molecules spontaneously assembling themselves into a rigid, highly uniform array, researchers from Columbia University and IBM have learned how to create a whole new family of intricate structures out of artificial nanoscale crystals.
Because the nanocrystals can be chosen for their precise magnetic and electronic properties, says the group's spokesperson, Stephen O'Brien of Columbia, these new structures could have broad application for magnetic storage and nanoscale electronics.
"You can think of nanocrystals as building blocks like the toy Lego," says O'Brien, "in which a larger structure can be assembled by locking in the pieces according to their shape and the way they prefer to join to each other. Except all of this is on an incredibly small length scale -- billionths of a meter."
The group described 10 of the new structures in the Jan. 5, 2006, issue of the journal Nature. Their work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research through NSF's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at Columbia.
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