Creating surprisingly small metallic snowflakes (about the width of a human hair) could pave the way for new sensors, better industrial processes, and even advanced, tiny electronic components for future computers. there is. That’s the conclusion of a new study by Australian and New Zealand researchers who have grown sophisticated metal crystals atom by atom in a liquid gallium solvent. Gallium, a soft, silvery metal commonly used in semiconductor manufacturing, has the unusual property of melting at 85.6F (a temperature slightly above room temperature).
In a new study, members of the Australia-based team worked on melting various metals (aluminum, bismuth, copper, nickel, tin, platinum, silver and zinc) into liquid gallium at high temperatures.
As the solution cooled, metal crystals precipitated and the gallium remained liquid. Due to the high surface tension of liquid gallium, extracting the crystal without damaging its fine features proved to be a considerable challenge.
However, the team was able to develop a way to do just that by first using an electric field to lower the surface tension of the liquid metal and then vacuum filtering to separate the metal crystals from the solvent.
The crystals were found to be of various shapes, from cubes and rods to hexagonal plates to snowflakes in the case of zinc.
Across the Tasman Sea, University of Auckland materials scientist Professor Nicola Gaston and the rest of the New Zealand-based team ran molecular dynamics simulations to see how different shaped crystals formed from different metals. I explained why.
Professor Gaston said: This is novel because liquids are usually thought to lack structure or be only randomly structured. ”
The study builds on previous work investigating potential catalysts that found that expensive metals such as gold and platinum form different surface patterns when dissolved in liquid gallium and allowed to crystallize. Scientists explain. New research shows that these patterns continue beneath the surface.
From the simulations, the researchers determined that the interaction between the atomic structure of the liquid gallium solvent and the dissolved metal results in the emergence of different shaped crystals.
In the case of zinc, the team explained that the metal’s six-fold symmetry (each atom is surrounded by six equidistant neighbors) led to the snowflake design.
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Professor Gaston told Express.co.uk that in the case of zinc, for example, “we get these snowflakes because the liquid metal stabilizes the hexagonal faces of the crystal and destabilizes the other faces.”
She continues: Nanostructures can be used in a variety of applications, from catalyzing industrial reactions to detecting molecules in the air.
Additionally, because gallium is liquid at nearly room temperature, the nanostructure design process is very low-energy and produces no waste, she explained.
Professor Gaston added:
“Everything is in a fairly cold environment, and the gallium we are using to form the structure can later be completely recovered and reused.”
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Professor Gaston continues:
“This is how nature makes nanoparticles, and it’s less wasteful and much more accurate than top-down methods.”
“If we can do it on the fly, we can imagine using this kind of technology to create electronic devices for computing in the future.”
And she sarcastically said: “There’s also something very cool about making metal snowflakes.”
The full findings of this study were published in Science.