Ceramic, I shrank the pores: Ion-assisted atomic re-design helps make brittle plastic

Do you remember the 1989 movie “Honey, I shrank the kids” in which the protagonist Wayne Szalinski accidentally shrinks his and his neighbours kids?
Published in Chemistry
Ceramic, I shrank the pores: Ion-assisted atomic re-design helps make brittle plastic

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The paper can be found here: https://go.nature.com/2JADoC2

If you think that shrinking material with beams is science fiction, think again. 

Throughout our experiments, we discovered that a beam of helium ions can help rearrange a nanoporous anodized alumina material on the atomic scale and to shrink its pores well below the sizes it is possible to produce by common electrochemical anodization method. 

The Helium Ion Microscope, in which a beam of energetic helium ions is scanned across a sample, allows us to play with atomic rearrangements, diffusion and propagation of defects and therefore to manipulate nanoscale and mesoscopic structure of materials with unprecedented precision. Being able to play with different atomic bonds and to see how different bonds can use them to influence the manipulation of matter on the nanometre scale opens new avenues to create future smart materials with different functions, for example for early diagnostics of cancer and quantum computing. 

Us scientists and engineers now have a fantastic trick up our sleeve and can play with order and disorder in materials on the atomic scale while seeing the changes in real time. The new ion-assisted manipulation of matter on the tiniest of length scales completely changes the behaviour of aluminium oxide. The originally brittle and porous ceramic turned superplastic and gained the ability to stretch more than twice without breaking. These findings offer a unique opportunity to transform energy with nanometre precision in a fast and effective way into the sample with very little material removal in the process. 

The process can easily be scaled up which is important for industrial applications. The basic technology already exists in industry. This means that large areas of the porous aluminium oxide can be modified with nanometre precision. The Helium Ion Microscope can do more than imaging and nanostructuring samples. It can also atomically re-design materials which display vastly different behaviour than their original phase. You are only limited by your imagination in materials design.

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