Nanotechnology is a common technology in science fiction where microscope machines are used to do just about anything. In reality though, nanotechnology still has its limits but researchers are constantly working to push those limits with both new technology and new ways to efficiently produce that technology. Researchers at Rice University have recently revealed an unexpected discovery of theirs for producing a new kind of nanotechnology.
Initially the researchers were trying to more cheaply produce 'nanojacks,' a quantum dot in the shape of a tetrapod, but were surprised to find spheres instead. It took a while but eventually they learned why the mixture of molten melt salts was forming this structure. The mixture consisted of cadmium nitrate, selenium, and a new surfactant they wanted to test. As the materials were heated the cadmium nitrate melted nanodroplets first and later the selenium melted and formed a shell around the droplets. Eventually the cadmium nitrate diffuses out of the shell, leaving a hole in the center, and what the researchers are now calling a lava dot. These lava dots are different from conventional quantum dots as they are larger and have an odd behavior when near to each other because they compress when packed tightly, but do not actually touch each other.
They also differed from quantum dots by demonstrating better performance in a solar-cell test device. Now the researchers are looking for more ways to use lava dots and what other materials they can make them from.