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Watching quasicrystals form


Scientists have for the first time seen quasicrystals forming in nanoparticles.


A transmission electron microscope image of a mesoporous silica nanoparticle, showing the tiling with triangles and squares, and the Fourier analysis (inset) showing 12-fold symmetry.
A transmission electron microscope image of a mesoporous silica nanoparticle, showing the tiling with triangles and squares, and the Fourier analysis (inset) showing 12-fold symmetry.
Lab of Uli Wiesner, Cornell University

What makes quasicrystals so interesting? Their unusual structure: Atoms in quasicrystals are arranged in an orderly but nonperiodic way, unlike most crystals, which are made up of a three-dimensional, orderly and periodic (repeating) arrangement of atoms.

While quasicrystals have been known and studied for 35 years, Uli Wiesner and colleagues at Cornell University have been the first to watch the mysterious structures form.

While working with silica nanoparticles, one of Wiesner’s students stumbled upon an unusual non-periodic but ordered silica structure, directed by chemically induced self-assembly of groups of molecules, or micelles.

“For the first time, we see this structure in nanoparticles, which had never been seen before to the best of our knowledge,” said Wiesner, whose research team proceeded to conduct hundreds of experiments to capture the formation of these structures at early stages of their development.

The research is published in Nature Communications.

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