Late last year, Caltech researchers revealed that they had developed a new fabrication technique for printing microsized metal parts containing features about as thick as three or four sheets of paper. Now, the team has reinvented the technique to allow for printing objects a thousand times smaller: 150 nanometers, which is comparable to the size of a flu virus. In doing so, the team also discovered that the atomic arrangements within these objects are disordered, which would, at large scale, make these materials unusable because they would be considered weak and "low quality." In the case of nanosized metal objects, however, this atomic-level mess has the opposite effect: these parts can be three-to-five-times stronger than similarly sized structures with more orderly atomic arrangements.
The work was conducted in the lab of Julia R. Greer, the Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics and Medical Engineering; and Fletcher Jones Foundation Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute. It is described in a paper appearing in the journal Nano Letters. [Caltech story]