Stronger and lighter can go hand in hand

A scanning electron microscope image of the new material reveals its ceramic nano-lattices. Credit: Technology Review

Material Science in the next decade will likely e dominated by nanotechnology. By designing materials bottom up researchers can design also their physical characteristics and these may differ radically from the ones of materials found in everyday life.

A point in case. Ceramics is very hard but it is also brittle (when was the last time you broke a chinaware?). One could imagine than the thinner the ceramics the brittler it becomes. This is true but only at the macro scale.

Julia Greer, a research team leader at Caltech, has been able to create a sponge like (see photo) structure made of ceramics, each bar just 10 nm thick, that is extremely light (lighter than a feather, it floats in the air) and extremely strong. And no longer brittle. If you crush it it will jump back to its original shape.

Julia has been working on nano structures for several years and has found a way to develop, so far just in the lab, these tiny structures using a 3D laser etching technology to shape a polymer and then coating the resulting structure with ceramics. Then by using a oxygen plasma the polymer is removed leaving pipes of ceramics connected one another.

A first application may be to create better batteries, that can recharge faster and increase the energy density. To do that they have to work out an industrial manufacturing process, and this is, usually, a tough endeavour. 

Author - Roberto Saracco

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