Many of the technologies used in modern electronics were made with a top-down method that took a piece of some material and removed or etched away what was not needed. While this method has proven itself for many generations of technology, it may not last much longer. The components to these technologies are growing smaller and smaller and the top-down methods have a limit to how small they can make things. Many researchers are looking to using a bottom-up method which grows the components from nanoscale catalysts, and those at Case Western Reserve University have made an intriguing discovery concerning these catalysts.
Many examples of nanostructures, such as nanowires and nanotubes, are grown on catalysts using a deposition technique. These catalysts are normally spherical in shape and our current understanding of how the structures grow would not indicate different shapes would affect the growth. The Case researchers decided to look anyway and found that catalysts with a cube, triangle, or other structure actually caused the nanowires to grow much faster and longer.
The researchers believe this is happening because of how the catalysts are affecting the concentration of one of the elements in the nanowires. The nanowires are all made of indium and arsenic, but those grown on non-spherical catalysts had thicker layers of indium.
Potentially this research may change our understanding of how nanowires form. A better understanding of this process will likely be necessary for these or other nanowires to be incorporated into future technologies.