Some of the tiniest crystals in the world can, together, form superlattices, the basic elements of various novel materials. These crystals are also called “artificial atoms,” because they can organize themselves into structures that look a lot like molecules.
Scientists from the Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) and Stanford University have now serendipitously observed these nanocrystals forming superlattices as they grow. In fact, during the routine synthesis of nanocrystals, superlattices can form incredibly fast — in a matter of seconds, not days. These observations, the first of their kind, will help scientists to adapt and improve the assembly process and use it to make novel materials for applications such as solar cells, optoelectronics, magnetic storage, and catalysts that speed up chemical reactions.