Exploring the Materials Science Applications of Nanoscale Sculpturing Technology

ONE Lab

nanoscaleThe newly developed process of nanoscale sculpturing can be used to alter the surface properties of metals, and it has the potential to impact a wide range of technologies. Image Credit: Flickr user WorldSkills UK

The industrial applications of metals is nearly ubiquitous, ranging from building construction to medical device manufacturing, but their surface properties can sometimes make them hard to work with. In September 2016, researchers at Kiel University announced that they had developed a novel process for the surface preparation of metals, conferring properties that could make them easier to work with.1 This process, which they dubbed “nanoscale sculpturing,” involves targeted nanoscale etching that was previously only possible for semiconductors. By removing unstable particles on the surfaces of metals, the process roughens these surfaces, creating grooves that are ten to twenty micrometers deep.

While the metal’s bulk properties are unaffected, the process does confer novel surface properties that can be applied to the development of a wide range of new technologies. Consider some of these properties:

 

  • Physical bonding with almost any other material

 

Perhaps the most significant surface property conferred by this process is the ability for a metal, such as aluminum, titanium or zinc, to be physically bonded to almost any other substance. The grooves created by the etching process allow metals to interlock with other materials, creating extremely strong bonds that can withstand conditions of extreme heat and moisture.2  This technology has the potential to be applied to nearly any venture that involves combining metals with other materials in real-world applications; for instance, they may be able to improve the structural integrity of medical devices or enable the construction of fireproof buildings.

 

  • Resistance to water and other undesirable substances

 

The grooves created by nanoscale sculpturing are too small to be penetrated by water molecules, so the metal can repel water. Because of this, nanoscale sculpturing may be applied as an anti-corrosion technique in construction and manufacturing. Similarly, the small size of the grooves prevents other damaging substances, like the oils from fingerprints, from sticking to metal surfaces. As a result, nanoscale sculpturing eliminates the need for extensive pre-cleaning of metal surfaces, such as ships’ hulls, prior to painting.

 

  • Removal of biologically harmful particles

 

Most medical implants are comprised of titanium and fixed in place with aluminum. In some cases, the implant triggers side effects because of the unstable particles on the surface of the aluminum. Because nanoscale sculpturing removes these particles, the technology will enable scientists to develop internal medical devices that are well-tolerated by the body.

Managing Broad Scientific Studies

In order to make the most of these new findings, researchers at specialty chemicals firms should begin exploring some of these applications and testing preliminary prototypes. Because this research has such a wide range of potential applications, they will need to start off by trying of figure out which applications are the most promising and then delve deeper into the capabilities and limits of these technologies. In order to keep the overall project moving forward, research groups can use collaborative software that enables coordination between team members. There are several ways in which this software can enhance project management and improve research efficiency:

 

  • Delegating specialized tasks

 

Based on each lab member’s particular expertise, team leaders can use the software to direct specific tasks to the most capable personnel. For instance, medical device research can be delegated to those with more experience in biomedical science, while construction research can be directed toward mechanical engineers. That way, the research team can make the most of each member’s unique talents and perspectives. Since these scientists may be located in labs that are in different locations, organizing research responsibilities through a single platform can make it easier for leaders to reach out to collaborators and keep track of who is responsible for what task throughout the research process.

 

  • Speeding research progress

 

Because the software simplifies data exchange, the team won’t lose its coherence or direction. As researchers make discoveries about the applications of nanoscale sculpturing technology, they can easily pass their data to others who might benefit from the findings and redirect their own research in response to these new insights. This quickens the pace of the research.

 

  • Cataloging results

 

During the initial phases of research into the capabilities and applications of nanoscale sculpturing technology, it is essential that all experimental procedures, results and analyses are well-documented and stored for future use, since scientists can never be sure which early findings might end up being critically important down the road. Instead of locking this information in inaccessible silos, collaborative software guarantees that the information is readily available to other team members as well as scientists in other labs, no matter where in the world they are located, at any time.

Next Steps: Developing Standard Protocols for Nanoscale Sculpturing Applications Research

Overall, the fact that the potential applications of nanoscale sculpturing technology haven’t been fully fleshed out offers a significant opening for materials scientists looking to improve a wide range of technologies that involve metals. As researchers gain a more complete understanding of this technology and its broader implications, they can start developing standard testing protocols for potential applications. Using modern software tools will make it possible to maximize productivity, even during the earliest phases of research.

BIOVIA ONE Research Lab offers critical collaboration capabilities that support research efficiency by making it easy for researchers to share information with each other and access previous results. Contact us today to learn more about this and other offerings that can support innovative materials science research in your lab.

  1. “Kiel nanoscale-sculpturing makes metal surfaces strong, resistant, and multifunctional; multi-material joining,” September 8, 2016, http://www.greencarcongress.com/2016/09/20160908-kiel.html
  2. “Breakthrough in materials science: Kiel research team can bond metals with nearly all surfaces,” September 19, 2016, http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Breakthrough_in_materials_science_Kiel_research_team_can_bond_metals_with_nearly_all_surfaces_999.html