Professor Terasaki and Changhong Xiao
Professor Terasaki and Changhong Xiao
 

Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale, is considered to be a key technology for the future and spans field as diverse as semiconductor physics, organic chemistry as well structural crystallography – a research area Stockholm University leads in internationally.

As part of their work in nanotechnology and structural crystallography, Professor Terasaki and Changhong made a breakthrough, becoming the first scientists to identify and begin working with quasicrystal obtained as twelve-sided crystals in mesoporous silica  – offering the potential for staggering ‘real world’ applications – including in the transmission of information.

Today information is transmitted by electrons, through wires, but in the future, the scientists believe information could be transmitted by light, using crystals. “Light can carry much more information with much faster speed than electrons,” says the Professor, “imagine if the information inside your computer moved at light speed by crystals - that would be a huge speed upgrade,” adds a smiling Changhong.

There are major challenges however. “Control is a big issue,” says the Professor, “the field of electronics has been well developed, you can control where electrons go, with light it is a different question. With photonics, you have to control the light, which is hard, because light doesn’t stay in crystals – it comes out.”

This is where the quasicrystals come in, according to the Professor, “we will be able to control the transmission of light with a certain wavelength in other words the transmission of information.”

The scientists are keen to point out that such a potential ‘real world’ application is still some years off. Mesoporous silica is a recent development in nanotechnology and the scientists are taking a cautious approach to the early research. “It took just three months to identify the twelve-sided crystals, and for the past two years, we have focused on understanding what we’re looking at,” says Changhong, “without understanding the basics, we can’t extend to applying the theory,” adds Professor Terasaki.

Initial attempts for the practical applications in two other groups of nanoporous materials - metal organic framework (MOF) and zeolite - have been reported by scientists including Professor Terasaki in Science on May 25 and June 29 2012 respectively. 

To read the letter published in Nature entitled Dodecagonal Tiling in Mesoporous Silica go to www.nature.com/nature/journal/v487/n7407/full/nature11230.html