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May 20th, 2007

The nanostructure problem

Modern high performance materials are revolutionizing our lives, from light high strength metals in aviation to exotic electronic materials in our computers. The frontier in materials research is to design novel materials where we control the atomic arrangements on the nano-meter scale to obtain some desired functionality: the dream of nanotechnology.
Michigan State University physicist Simon Billinge, together with Igor Levin from NIST, describe a fundamental impediment to this dream: the nanostructure problem ("The Problem with Determining Atomic Structure at the Nanoscale"). The powerful tools of crystallography, which are currently used to map out the atomic-scale structure of bulk materials, fail on the nanoscale, precisely the domain where nanotechnologists need to characterize and control structure.


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