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Innovative Method Builds Materials with Light

If you’re a fan of science fiction, undoubtedly you’ve read about cloaking devices and shields that can be used on a small or large scale. It used to be that these fantastic devices were relegated to the book shelves, but that may not be the case in the near future.

Researchers at Cambridge University have come up with a new method that can actually build materials with light. You heard that correctly – using light to “build” materials.

This isn’t all that far-fetched when you consider that how we visually perceive objects is largely determined by the amount of light at hand, and how that light interacts with the object we are seeing.

The team was able to work with metamaterials. According to Science Daily, “The technique developed by the Cambridge team involves using unfocused laser light as billions of needles, stitching gold nanoparticles together into long strings, directly in water for the first time. These strings can then be stacked into layers one on top of the other, similar to Lego bricks. The method makes it possible to produce materials in much higher quantities than can be made through current techniques.”

“It’s about finding a way to control that bridge between the nanoparticles,” said Dr Ventsislav Valev of the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, one of the authors of the paper. “Joining a few nanoparticles together is fine, but scaling that up is challenging.”

“We have controlled the dimensions in a way that hasn’t been possible before,” said Dr Valev, who worked with researchers from the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy on the project. “This level of control opens up a wide range of potential practical applications.”

For engineering students, studies like this are further inspiration to learn the techniques necessary to have a dynamic impact on society. What was once stranger than fiction is now reality thanks to the work of dedicated engineers.

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