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New nanotechnology method grows nanotrees from nanowires

Forests of spiraling nanotrees made from lead sulfide nanowires may lead to new nanotech approaches for producing one-dimensional nanostructures based on designed dislocations rather than metal catalysts to control growth. From the University of Wisconsin-Madison, via AAAS EurekAlert, “Spiraling nanotrees offer new twist on growth of nanowires“:

Since scientists first learned to make nanowires, the nano-sized wires just a few millionths of a centimeter thick have taken many forms, including nanobelts, nanocoils and nanoflowers.

But when University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry professor Song Jin and graduate student Matthew Bierman accidentally made some pine tree shapes one day — complete with tall trunks and branches that tapered in length as they spiraled upward — they knew they’d stumbled upon something peculiar.

… Writing in the May 1 edition of Science Express [abstract], Jin and his team reveal just how curious the nanotrees truly are. In fact, they’re evidence of an entirely different way of growing nanowires, one that promises to give scientists a powerful means to create new and better nanomaterials for all sorts of applications, including high-performance integrated circuits, biosensors, solar cells, LEDs and lasers.

Until now, most nanowires have been made with metal catalysts, which promote the growth of nanomaterials along one dimension to form long rods. While the branches on Jin’s trees also elongate in this way, growth of the trunks is driven by a “screw” dislocation, or defect, in their crystal structure. At the top of the trunk, the defect provides a spiral step for atoms to settle on an otherwise perfect crystal face, causing them stack together in a spiral parking ramp-type structure that quickly lengthens the tip.

Dislocations are fundamental to the growth and characteristics of all crystalline materials, but this is the first time they’ve been shown to aid the growth of one-dimensional nanostructures. Engineering these defects, says Jin, may not only allow scientists to create more elaborate nanostructures, but also to investigate the fundamental mechanical, thermal and electronic properties of dislocations in materials.

—Jim

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