Nanoscale architectural components. Photo by Dongchan Jang, Caltech.
Architects have been watching the nanotechnology revolution from the sidelines, marveling at the possibilities promised by innovations such as carbon nanotubes and synthetic nacre. It may therefore be surprising that nanotechnologists have simultaneously been studying architecture, and have used basic structural principles found in buildings to strengthen their laboratory research.
Recently, Caltech researchers developed superstrong, light, and ductile materials in a class known as “glassy metallic alloys,” based on adopting architectural assemblies at nanoscale. According to researcher Julia Greer, "We are entering a new era in materials science, where structural materials can be created not only by utilizing monolith structures, like ceramics and metals, but also by introducing 'architectural' features into them.”
These features include components that mimic W-flange shapes or brick-and-mortar assemblies comprised by nanoscale metallic glass plates. By incorporating architectural logic at this minute scale, Greer and her lab assistants hope to create engineering composites that exhibit superior mechanical properties over conventional materials like ceramics and metals. “Our findings," she says, "provide a powerful foundation for utilizing nanoscale components, which are capable of sustaining very high loads without exhibiting catastrophic failure, in bulk-scale structural applications specifically by incorporating architectural and microstructural control."