Physicists from Stanford University say they have just invented the world's narrowest electrical wire, just three atoms wide, using diamandoids (the smallest component parts of a diamond) to do so. The creators believe that the new method used to create this nanowire could one day be employed to make minuscule wires for a range of applications, including electricity-generating fabrics, optoelectronic devices, and even superconducting materials that conduct electricity with almost no loss.

Composed of interlocking cages of carbon and hydrogen, diamondoids occur naturally in petroleum fluids. For this research, the tiny molecules were extracted and separated by the researchers and a sulphur atom was attached to each one. In a solution, the sulphur-loaded diamondoids were made to bond with copper ions to create the nanowire building blocks.

In the solution, the building blocks clumped together via a phenomenon known as the van der Waals force, that defines such things as the way certain molecules are attracted or repelled from each other and how geckos are able to walk on glass.

"Much like LEGO blocks, they only fit together in certain ways that are determined by their size and shape," said Stanford graduate student Fei Hua Li. "The copper and sulfur atoms of each building block wound up in the middle, forming the conductive core of the wire, and the bulkier diamondoids wound up on the outside, forming the insulating shell."

The resultant atomic scale of these wires and their conductivity is an important part of their usefulness, the team says, as materials that are constructed in one or two dimensions behave very differently to normal-sized wires, particularly in regard to quantum mechanical effects that tend to limit electron flow.

Building on previous research where Stanford scientists created a diode from diamondoids, the team has also used diamondoids to create one-dimensional nanowires of cadmium, zinc, iron, and silver.

"You can imagine weaving those into fabrics to generate energy," said Stanford associate professor Nicholas Melosh. "This method gives us a versatile toolkit where we can tinker with a number of ingredients and experimental conditions to create new materials with finely tuned electronic properties and interesting physics."

The results of this research have been published in the journal Nature Materials.

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