Nanostructures mimic Inuit stone sculptures

The stacked slabs of flat rocks called inukshuks, which mark trails and other important locations in the Arctic, have been cultural icons for Inuit people for thousands of years. Now, the icons’ signature structure is inspiring nanotechnologists. Chemists at the University of Alberta in Edmonton have created miniature versions of these traditional sculptures in silver. More than a stunt, the nano-inukshuks could facilitate the development of next-generation sensors and electronic devices.

NANO-INUKSHUK. A traditional stone inukshuk in Northern Canada (top) and a miniaturized version created in the lab (bottom). Buriak

As reported in an upcoming Nano Letters, the researchers immersed a centimeter-square wafer of the semiconductor germanium in a solution of silver nitrate. As silver ions dissociated from the nitrate, they settled onto the semiconductor. There, with the availability of electrons to neutralize the ions, the resulting silver atoms assembled into solid hexagonal plates on the wafer’s surface. New silver plates formed on top of each other, creating inukshuk-like structures about 10 microns high but only 300 nanometers wide.

Struck by how easy it was to make these metallic constructions, lead investigator

Jillian Buriak plans to use the method for making miniature electrodes and sensor components that form spontaneously in solution. Currently, researchers must make the components separately and position them manually on a semiconductor.

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