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Picoscience and a plethora of new materials

Materials so small they make nanomaterials look like behemoths

image of the atoms in a new material

A scanning transmission electron microscopy image of the atoms in a new picomaterial.


October 9, 2019

The revolutionary tech discoveries of the next few decades, the ones that will change daily life, may come from new materials so small they make nanomaterials look like behemoths.

These new materials will be designed and refined at the picometer scale, which is a thousand times smaller than a nanometer and a million times smaller than a micrometer (which itself is smaller than the width of a human hair).

To do this work, scientists will need training to operate an array of new equipment that can measure and guide such exquisitely controlled materials. The research involves designing the materials theoretically, fabricating them, and characterizing their properties.

At Yale University, there’s a name for it: picoscience.

The researchers are inventing new materials that are small, fast, and can perform in a multitude of ways, such as mimicking neurons in the brain, computing with magnets, and calculating with quantum mechanics. The scientists recently authored a new study that moves picoscience in yet another direction: taking elements from the periodic table and tinkering with them at the subatomic level to tease out new materials.

The researchers layered the elements one atomic plane at a time so sheets of titanium oxide one-atom thick transferred an electron to sheets of cobalt oxide with the same thickness. The process changed the electronic configuration and magnetic properties of the cobalt oxide sheet.

The research is funded by NSF's Division of Materials Research.

--  NSF Public Affairs, (703) 292-7090 media@nsf.gov