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A new process developed at Caltech makes it possible for the first time to manufacture large quantities of materials whose structure is designed at a nanometer scale—the size of DNA's double helix.

Pioneered by Caltech materials scientist Julia R. Greer, "nanoarchitected materials" exhibit unusual, often surprising properties—for example, exceptionally lightweight ceramics that spring back to their original shape, like a sponge, after being compressed. These properties could be desirable for applications ranging from ultrasensitive tactile sensors to advanced batteries, but so far, engineers have only been able to create them in very limited amounts. To create a material whose structure is designed at such a small scale, they often have to be assembled nano-layer by nano-layer in a 3-D printing process that uses a high-precision laser and custom-synthesized chemicals. That painstaking process limits the overall amount of material that can be built.

Now, a team of engineers at Caltech and ETH Zurich have developed a material that is designed at the nanoscale but assembles itself—with no need for the precision laser assembly. For the first time, they were able to create a sample of nanoarchitected material at the cubic-centimeter scale.

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Category: Science