Creating nano-structures from the bottom up

Public release date: 24-Apr-2012 [ | E-mail | Share ]

Contact: Richard Merritt 919-660-8414 Duke University

DURHAM, N.C. -- Microscopic particles are being coaxed by Duke University engineers to assemble themselves into larger crystalline structures by the use of varying concentrations of microscopic particles and magnetic fields.

These nano-scale crystal structures, which until now have been difficult and time-consuming to produce using current technologies, could be used as basic components for advanced optics, data storage and bioengineering, said the research team.

"Not only did we develop the theoretical underpinning for this new technique, but we demonstrated in the lab that we could create more than 20 different programmed structures," said Benjamin Yellen, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering and lead member of the research team. The results of the Duke experiments were published online in the journal Nature Communications.

"Despite the promise of creating new classes of man-made structures, current methods for creating these tiny structures in a reliable and cost-effective way remains a daunting challenge," Yellen said. "This new approach could open pathways for fabricating complex materials that cannot be produced by current techniques."

The research was supported by the Research Triangle Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The traditional method for creating man-made crystals is described as "top-down" by Yellen, which means they are fashioned by lithography or molding techniques, and can't be easily created in three dimensions.

"Our approach is much more 'bottom up,' in that we're starting at the level of a model 'atom' and working our way up," Yellen said.

By manipulating the magnetization within a liquid solution, the Duke researchers coaxed magnetic and non-magnetic particles to form intricate nano-structures, such as chains, rings and lattices.

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Creating nano-structures from the bottom up

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