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Gizmorama - July 20, 2016

Good Morning,

These 3D printers seem to be all the rage these days. Now, they're helping scientists to scale up nanostructures. At this point, what can't they do?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- 3D printer helps scientists scale up nanostructures --*

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Nanostructures are prized for their seemingly infinite material qualities, whether mechanical, chemical, electrical or optical.

But scientists have struggled to scale up promising nanostructures without sacrificing their uniformity and the qualities that made them desirable in the first place.

Researchers at Virginia Tech believe they've begun to solve this problem by developing a technique for scaling up nanostructure materials using a 3D printer.

The new printing process creates multi-leveled hierarchical lattices with nanoscale features. The metallic nanostructured materials maintain their impressive strength, while gaining improved flexibility and elasticity.

Multi-leveled hierarchical structures describe structural patterns which are mirrored at various scales within a single material.

"Creating 3D hierarchical micro features across the entire seven orders of magnitude in structural bandwidth in products is unprecedented," lead researcher Xiaoyu "Rayne" Zheng, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, said in a news release. "Assembling nanoscale features into billets of materials through multi-leveled 3D architectures, you begin to see a variety of programmed mechanical properties such as minimal weight, maximum strength and super elasticity at centimeter scales."

Researchers believe their printing process can yield materials with applications in the aerospace, military and automotive industries.

"The increased elasticity and flexibility obtained through the new process and design come without incorporating soft polymers, thereby making the metallic materials suitable as flexible sensors and electronics in harsh environments, where chemical and temperature resistance are required," Zheng said.

The new printing process also increased the surface area of nanosctructures within the multi-leveled hierarchical lattice, thereby amplifying optical and electrical properties.

*-- World's smallest hard disk stores data atom by atom --*

DELFT, Netherlands - Researchers in the Netherlands have unveiled the world's smallest hard disk.

The disk uses chlorine atoms to represent each bit of information, the most efficient data storage method yet devised. The hard disk stores 1 kilobyte of data, or 8,000 bits, and features a storage density of 500 Terabits per square inch -- 500 times better than the most efficient hard desk on the market.

"In theory, this storage density would allow all books ever created by humans to be written on a single post stamp," lead researcher Sander Otte, a scientist with the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University, said in a news release.

Researchers used a scanning tunneling microscope to manipulate atoms to represent binary code, the language used to encode data in computers.

"Every bit consists of two positions on a surface of copper atoms, and one chlorine atom that we can slide back and forth between these two positions," Otte explained. "If the chlorine atom is in the top position, there is a hole beneath it -- we call this a 1. If the hole is in the top position and the chlorine atom is therefore on the bottom, then the bit is a 0."

Using the scanning tunneling microscope, scientists can drag holes around on a copper surface to encode all kinds of information. Researchers liken the hard disk to a sliding puzzle, where each piece is either an atom or a hole.

Because each chlorine in atom is surrounded by other chlorine atoms, they remain stable and stationary. Previous attempts to encode data on the atomic scale have relied on loose, unanchored atoms.

The data on the hard disk is organized into blocks of 8 bytes, or 64 bits. Each block has a marker made of holes that works like a bar code, revealing the location of of the block on the copper layer.

The new method promises major improvements in terms of stability and scalability, but the technology requires significant improvement before it can be used in a working datacenter.

"In its current form the memory can operate only in very clean vacuum conditions and at liquid nitrogen temperature, 77 Kelvins, so the actual storage of data on an atomic scale is still some way off," Otte said. "But through this achievement we have certainly come a big step closer."


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