Scientists are currently looking into the depths of materials with a little help of super-quick science.
Researchers seeking to create the batteries and electronic items of the future are looking to superfast techniques such as laser (light amplification through the stimulated emission of radiation) technology.
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The materials they work with are just a few atoms in thickness and are gone within a few milliseconds. Leading edge facilities such as those at Stanford University have given the experts an opportunity to peer deep down into the nitty gritty stuff inside materials that are on the nanoscale and vanish before you can say “what the heck”.
These atoms normally move in trillionths of a second. They produce creases in a sample of material that has 3 atoms in its thickness. Such materials may come in handy in the flexible electronics of the future. Also semiconductor crystals known as quantum dots are used by researchers. They expand and shrink in response to pulsating laser light.
Such studies lend vital clues about these nanoscale materials and how they could be used in all sorts of contexts in the times to come. While many of these materials are already being used in cutting edge electronics, how they work remains somewhat of a mystery.
Part of the reason why these materials are poorly understood is the fact that they are very ephemeral. Within seconds they are gone. The time span may range from billionths of a second to quadrillionths of a second.
Yet mankind has made enough progress to be able to gaze at these ephemeral substances no matter how briefly. We are talking about the crossroads between materials science and engineering. The search for materials that will prove immensely beneficial in the future is what this is all about.
A three-atom-thick material wrinkles in response to a laser pulse. Understanding these dynamic ripples could provide crucial clues for the development of next-generation solar cells, electronics and catalysts. Illustration: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Light-based information storing devices and electronics that defy the imagination can be combined with energy techniques that lead to whole new fields of endeavor. At the nanoscale and quantum level, matter and energy behave erratically. It is a far cry from how they act on a macrolevel.
"We are trying to understand how electrons or atoms move in materials, which in turn determines, for example, the efficiency of solar cells and other energy-related materials, and how materials switch between different forms," researchers Aaron Lindenberg said. "Ultrafast techniques allow you to see these kinds of things in a completely new way."
Basically the rules of classical physics become totally obsolete and a weird and strange dimension is entered once the nanoscale stuff begins.
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Yet the tiniest of materials can have the most profound results. It is a brand new world we are being introduced to here thanks to the miracles wrought by modern science.