Are There Ways to Synthesize Materials Beyond the Limits of Today?

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A growing number of studies in recent years indicate that the preparation methods or the diagnostic tools developed in nanoscience and nanotechnology (NS/NT) may be used to synthesize materials beyond the limits of today. In this article, the following three kinds of materials synthesized by means of this approach are discussed. (1) Materials with tuneable atomic structures and densities. They are synthesized by introducing a high density of interfaces (i.e., interfaces spaced a few nanometers) into glasses and by subsequently delocalizing the enhanced free volume associated with these interfaces. (2) The alloying of conventionally immiscible components in the form of solid solutions. The alloying process is achieved by generating nanocomposits of these immiscible components. Due to the electronic space charge associated with the resulting interphase boundaries, the electronic structure of the nanocomposits is modified in the vicinity of the interphase boundaries. This modification changes the mutual solubility of the components so that even components that are completely immiscible in the electrically neutral state (such as Ag and Fe) form solid solutions in the space charge regions. (3) Self-assembled materials the atomic structure of which may be modified so that switches of atomic size are formed. The conductance of these switches is entirely controlled by an externally applied voltage without any mechanical movement of electrodes, etc. Reproducible switching was performed between an electrically insulating (“off”) state and many “on” states each of which is characterized by a preselectable conductance. Materials of this kind may open new perspectives for quantum electronics and the development of logics on an atomic scale. The three examples discussed in this article represent just three out of many other facets of a newly developing branch of nanoscience. This branch is characterized by the application of preparation methods or diagnostic tools—pioneered in nanoscience/nanotechnology—to perform new studies in a variety of other areas of science such as molecular biology, medicine, quantum physics, and astronomy.

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    G 0 is the well-known conductance quantum given by 2 e2/h, where e is the electron charge and h is Planck’s constant.


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The author is most grateful to the numerous collaborators and colleagues who cooperated with him on the various topics discussed in this article. These cooperations involved contributions from colleagues during the time periods he was associated with the Universities of Bochum, Saarbruecken, and subsequently with the Research Center Karlsruhe, as well as with several laboratories in Australia, Austria, China, Japan, and the United States. Undoubtedly, it was a great pleasure and a tremendous professional as well as personal privilege to interact with all of these colleagues. For that reason, the invitation to present the Robert Franklin Mehl lecture is regarded as a recognition of all the scientists involved in this work as well as of the funding agencies—in particular, the German Science Foundation (DFG) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation—that have supported and still support these studies generously.

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Correspondence to Herbert Gleiter.

Additional information

2009 Robert Franklin Mehl Lecture delivered during the 138th TMS Annual Meeting (Feb. 15–19, 2009) in San Francisco, CA.

The Institute of Metals Lecture, established in 1921, recognizes an outstanding scientific leader who is selected to present a lecture at the TMS Annual Meeting. The Robert Franklin Mehl Award was established in 1972.

Herbert Gleiter obtained his Ph.D. in 1966 in physics from the Max Planck Institute of Materials Science and the University of Stuttgart. After working several years as a research fellow at Harvard University and MIT, he accepted positions as director of the Institute of Materials Physics at the Universities of Bochum, Saarbruecken, the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) Zuerich, and the University of Hamburg–Harburg. In 1994, the government of Germany appointed him to the Executive Board of the Research Center Karlsruhe, Germany’s largest national laboratory. Four years later, he initiated (together with Noble Laureate J.M. Lehn and D. Fenske) the Institute of Nanotechnology (INT) at the Research Center Karlsruhe. The INT is today Germany’s largest research institute in the area of nanotechnology. His work at Harvard and MIT resulted in the following two discoveries: the existence of dislocations in intercrystalline interfaces and in the “structural unit model” of grain boundaries. This model is today’s accepted model of the atomic structure of grain boundaries. In the late 1970s, he pioneered a new class of materials in which the volume fraction of the cores of interfaces is comparable to the volume fraction of the crystallites forming these interfaces. Materials of this kind were produced by consolidating nanometer-sized crystallites and were thus called nanocrystalline or nanostructured materials. In the subsequent years, this field expanded at a remarkable rate: today more than 800 papers are published every year and several international conferences are organized annually. Most recently, his work has focused on the following three areas: (1) a novel class of noncrystalline materials, called nanoglasses; (2) materials with tuneable electronic structures; and (3) the application of methods developed initially in nanotechnology to probe the limits of quantum physics.

Gleiter’s contributions to the international scientific literature have been cited more than 10,000 times since 1988. One of his papers has received up to almost 2000 citations thus far followed by six papers with more than 500 citations. Throughout his career, Gleiter has received numerous awards, including the Leibniz Prize, the Max Planck Research Prize, and the Gold Medals of Acta Materialia and of the Federation of European Materials Societies; he has also been awarded the Heyn, the Heisenberg, and the Humboldt Medals and, in 2008, the Von Hippel Prize, the highest award of the MRS. He has received honorary doctorates from three German/Suisse universities and several honorary professorships and doctorates from foreign universities. He has been elected a fellow of both the Japanese Society for Promotion of Science and the Materials Research Society of India. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences of Germany, the United States National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the European Academy of Sciences, and the Indian National Academy of Engineering.

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Gleiter, H. Are There Ways to Synthesize Materials Beyond the Limits of Today?. Metall and Mat Trans A 40, 1499–1509 (2009) doi:10.1007/s11661-009-9848-7

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  • Free Volume
  • Metallic Glass
  • Interphase Boundary
  • Bulk Metallic Glass
  • Space Charge Region