Researchers create thinnest possible electrical wire

Scientists at Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have discovered a way to use diamondoids – the smallest possible bits of diamond – to assemble atoms into the thinnest possible electrical wires, just three atoms wide.

By grabbing various types of atoms and putting them together LEGO-style, the new technique could potentially be used to build tiny wires for a wide range of applications, including fabrics that generate electricity, optoelectronic devices that employ both electricity and light, and superconducting materials that conduct electricity without any loss.

“What we have shown here is that we can make tiny, conductive wires of the smallest possible size that essentially assemble themselves,” Stanford postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper, Hao Yan said.

“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.”

Although there are other ways to get materials to self-assemble, this is the first one shown to make a nanowire with a solid, crystalline core that has good electronic properties, said study co-author Nicholas Melosh, an associate professor at SLAC and Stanford and investigator with SIMES, the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences at SLAC.

The needle-like wires have a semiconducting core – a combination of copper and sulfur known as a chalcogenide – surrounded by the attached diamondoids, which form an insulating shell.

Their minuscule size is important, Mr Melosh said, because a material that exists in just one or two dimensions – as atomic-scale dots, wires or sheets – can have very different, extraordinary properties compared to the same material made in bulk.

The scientists reported their results in Nature Materials late last year.