University of Minnesota researchers have made the first-ever hardness measurements on individual silicon nanospheres and shown that the nanospheres’ hardness falls between the conventional hardness of sapphire and diamond, which are among the hardest known materials. Being able to measure such nanoparticle properties may eventually help scientists design low-cost superhard materials from these nanoscale building blocks.
Up to four times harder than typical silicon-a principal ingredient of computer chips, glass and sand-the nanospheres demonstrate that other materials at the nanoscale, including sapphire, may also have vastly improved mechanical properties. The researchers’ results were published online March 18 by the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids and will appear in June 2003 issue. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal agency that supports basic research in all fields of science and engineering.
"These results give us two reasons to be excited," said William Gerberich, chemical engineering and materials science professor at Minnesota and lead author on the paper along with his graduate student William Mook. "We can now look at the properties of these building blocks, and from there, we can begin to design superhard materials. In addition, we’ve now achieved a way to conduct experiments on a nanoscale particle and perform atom-by atom supercomputer simulations on a similarly sized particle."
David Hart | NSF
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