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 user 2005-03-17 at 10:55:00 am Views: 113
  • #10901

    In solution, tiny magnetic wires scatter light

    SAN DIEGO – Maneuvering external magnets, scientists can
    command the direction in which light bounces off tiny, magnetic wires that sway
    like matchsticks in thick, slow-moving solutions.

    Announcing her finding here today at the 229th meeting of the
    American Chemical Society,University of Wisconsin-Madison materials chemist
    Anne Bentley described how suspended nickel wires – each 200 times thinner than
    a human hair – could one day serve as magneto-optical switches. The switches
    could aid in fields such as photonics, where light, rather than electricity,
    relays information.

    “In a broader sense, it is also helpful to study how these wires behave in
    wet situations because if they are ever medically used, there is little inside
    our bodies that’s dry,” says Bentley, who suspended her wires in several types
    of fluids and found that the light-directing phenomenon was most consistent when
    she used “molasses-like” liquids such as glycerol.

    “Another advantage that ‘magnetic fluids’ may have over other light-directing
    devices, such as mirrors, is that fluids can easily take various shapes,”
    Bentley adds.

    Bentley calls her microscopic wires “nanowires” after nanotechnology, the
    booming, cutting-edge science of small. The “nano” in nanotechnology derives
    from the nanometer, which is equivalent to a billionth of one meter. Several
    types of nanoparticles are already in use, in products such as sunscreens and
    inkjet printer ink.

    But in the fledgling realm of nanowire research, Bentley is one of only a few
    scientists worldwide who is studying the properties of nickel nanowires. Other
    nano-scale structures under investigation include, for instance, non-magnetic

    carbon nanotubes.

    Nanowires have not yet ventured outside the research arena, but researchers
    believe they will one day become critical components in ever-shrinking
    electronic circuits. Nickel nanowires, for instance, could play a key role in
    storing information, says Bentley. In particular, scientists could use external
    magnets to dictate the orientation and position of magnetic nickel nanowires
    within complex and tiny electronic systems. Without such control, says Bentley,
    working with nano-scale circuit parts could be like “trying to put Legos
    together with oven mitts on.”