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[Image above] Credit: NIST

How insects’ legs can improve man-made materials

In an effort to improve materials used in aviation and medicine, a team of Irish researchers is studying the legs of certain insects. Some features that appear to contribute to the legs’ sturdiness don’t actually do so, they found, while others that would be expected to weaken the legs don’t have that effect. These null results provide fresh insight into the surprising ways that nature works. But the new understanding also has the potential to contribute to applications of engineering materials shaped like the insects’ legs.

Sandcastles inspire new nanoparticle binding technique

If you want to form very flexible chains of nanoparticles in liquid in order to build tiny robots with flexible joints or make magnetically self-healing gels, you need to revert to childhood and think about sandcastles. Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill recently showed that magnetic nanoparticles encased in oily liquid shells can bind together in water, much like sand particles mixed with the right amount of water can form sandcastles.

Scientists curve nanoparticle sheets into complex forms

Scientists have been making nanoparticles, but they have never been able to get a sheet of nanoparticles to curve or fold into a complex 3-D structure. Now researchers from the University of Chicago, the University of Missouri, and the Argonne National Lab have found a simple way to do exactly that. The team coated membranes of gold nanoparticles with organic molecules and curled the membranes into tubes with an electron beam.

New insight on how crystals form may advance materials research and beyond

Scientists have long worked to understand how crystals grow into complex shapes. Crystals are important in materials from skeletons and shells to soils and semiconductor materials, but much is unknown about how they form. Now, an international group of researchers has shown how nature uses a variety of pathways to grow crystals that go beyond the classical, one-atom-at-a-time route.

Physicists announce graphene’s latest cousin: stanene

Two years after physicists predicted that tin should be able to form a mesh just one atom thick, researchers say that they have made stanene. Many of these sheets are excellent conductors of electricity, but stanene is—in theory—extra-special. At room temperature, electrons should be able to travel along the edges of the mesh without colliding with other electrons and atoms as they do in most materials.

NYU scientists bring order, and color, to microparticles

A team of New York University scientists has developed a technique that prompts microparticles to form ordered structures in a variety of materials. The work is centered on enhancing the arrangement of colloids—small particles suspended within a fluid medium. Colloidal dispersions are composed of such everyday items such as paint, milk, gelatin, glass, and porcelain, but their potential to create new materials remains largely untapped.