June 3, 2021 – Penicillin, the microwave oven, Viagra, and chocolate chip cookies were all successful accidental accomplishments. Joining these is one-dimensional (1D) atomic silver wire. Eluding scientists for two decades, this milestone in nanotechnology was achieved by an international team of researchers who were trying to do something else.
Researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai, Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science, and Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Centre for Materials Science were examining the properties of silver by putting silver atoms on the outside of manganese dioxide nanorods that had channels inside them. The scientists conducted the experiment in regular air, rather than inside an inert vacuum, expecting the silver atoms to react with oxygen and form silver oxide.
Instead, the silver atoms diffused quickly inside the nanorod channels in a self-assembly technique that formed 1D silver rods up to 1 μm in length that was stable outside a vacuum. The team made 200 silver wires as wide as one atom. In an article at ZDnet, QUT professor Dmitri Golberg said that unexpectedly, the silver demonstrated a temperature-controlled insulator-to-metal transition. This means that depending on the temperature, the wire could be used as a switch in thermal electrical devices. If the wires are processed at suitable 3D sizes, which is still a challenging endeavor, they could be connected to nanocircuitry. Ultimately, the atomic wire discovery could contribute to the manufacture of electronic devices on a molecular scale. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.