On the nanoscale, heat can flow in unexpected ways. This uncertainty poses challenges and opportunities for researchers aiming to understand and exploit the behavior of tiny structures.
Anomalous heat flow recently became apparent in the surprising behavior of ultrasmall clusters of water molecules enclosed in molecule-thick skins of surfactant molecules, the key ingredient of detergents. When scientists laser-zapped the watery centers of the blobs, which boosted the water clusters to the equivalent of about 3,000°C, that energy flowed into the solvent much faster than when the laser was tuned to excite the surfactant skins, say Dana D. Dlott of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his colleagues there and at the University of Scranton (Pa.)
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