Scientists at NAL lab create smallest electrical wire with microscopic diamonds

Scientists at NAL lab create smallest electrical wire with microscopic diamonds

MENLO PARK ,Dec28:Using microscopic bits of diamonds, scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have created the world’s smallest electrical wire, measuring only three atoms wide.

The tiny necklace holds big promise for the field of nanotechnology, offering a technique for the future construction of molecular-scale mesh material that could be useful for ever-smaller and more efficient electronics or fabrics that generate electricity.

“It’s the first time wires this size have been created,” said study co-author Nicholas Melosh, an associate professor at Stanford University and investigator with SIMES, the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences at SLAC, funded by the Department of Energy. The scientists reported their results in Monday’s issue of the journal Nature Materials.

 The conductive core of the wire is made of a tightly bound atom of sulfur and an atom of copper.

Surrounding it, acting as an insulating shell, are “diamondoids,” fragments of diamonds, discovered in petroleum from the Gulf of Mexico by the Richmond-based ChevronTexaco. Each diamondoid is so small that scientists estimate that 1 million would fit across the diameter of a pinhead.

What’s special about diamondoids is this: They’re strong, hard and drawn towards each other, through an attraction known as van der Waals forces. (This makes them annoying for oil companies because they clump together and clog pipes.) This means they tightly restrict — through squeezing, essentially — the size of the sulfur-copper core.

diamondoids_og
Close-up of purified diamondoids on a lab bench. Too small to see with the naked eye, diamondoids are visible only when they clump together in fine, sugar-like crystals like these. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

“The process is a simple, one-pot synthesis. You dump the ingredients together and you can get results in half an hour. It’s almost as if the diamondoids know where they want to go,” said Hao Yan, a Stanford postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper. They grab these other atoms and put them together, LEGO-style, into a tiny triangle.

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