Scientists in New Zealand and Australia have made a significant discovery in the field of nanomaterials by creating tiny metallic snowflakes.
Professor Nicola Gaston and research fellow Dr Steph Lambie, both of Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, and Dr Krista Steenbergen of Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington, collaborated with colleagues in Australia led by Professor Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh at the University of New South Wales. The scientists dissolved various metals in gallium at high temperatures and then cooled the mixture, resulting in the formation of metallic crystals while the gallium remained liquid.
Why it matters
These nanoscale structures, which are just a billionth of a metre in size, have the potential to revolutionize electronics manufacturing, make materials stronger and lighter, and aid in environmental cleanups by binding to toxins. The research, which was published in the Science journal, focused on the use of gallium, a soft, silvery metal that is used in semiconductors and has the unusual property of liquefying at just above room temperature.
The researchers discovered that the structure of the liquid gallium played a significant role in the shape of the resulting crystals, which included cubes, rods, hexagonal plates, and zinc snowflake shapes. The researchers believe that this bottom-up approach, which relies on atoms self-assembling, has opened up a new pathway for metallic nanostructures and has the potential to be both more precise and less wasteful than traditional top-down methods.