The Beauty and Mystery of the Microworld

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[Click to enlarge]

Photos and text by Galina Strukova and Gennady Strukov.

The beauty of these pictures is intriguing and fascinating by its asymmetric, exquisite and intricate pattern. What is it? Is it a product of a novel computer program or photographs of fine creations of nature? Neither statement is true. In fact, these are not pictures, but images of metal samples made with an electron microscope.

Only some color is added to the images to emphasize their resemblance to natural objects of our macroworld: seashells, jelly-fish, leaves of exotic plants. The size of the samples is from tens of micrometers to 1-2 millimeters. They are produced via self-organization of nano-sized (millionth of a millimeter) wires growing on porous membranes under the action of electric current pulses.

[Click to enlarge]

[Click to enlarge]

This is how such volumetric (3D) sculptures are described in scientific journals [1- 3] along with the experimental conditions for their reproduction, i.e., the conditions of the process (electrolyte composition, porous membrane, pulsed current mode) are specified, when growing nanowires organize themselves in an inexplicable fashion into “sculptures” that show perfect resemblance to natural creations. The authors have managed to isolate and photograph them with a modern electron microscope.

Besides, they have proved that the internal structure of this metallic “seashells” is a volumetric multilayer network woven by nano-sized wires. Such antenna-like samples are expected to find application in nanotechnology. Now we can produce such “sculptures” from various metals “by order”, examine them and admire their elegant forms and fascinating beauty. However, it is still a riddle. Why do they so closely resemble shells and leaves? Does this mysterious self-organization have anything in common with formation of plant leaves and seashells?

[1] J of Bionic Engineering 10 (2013) 368–376
[2] Materials Today 16 (2013) 98–99
[3] Materials Letters 128 (2014) 212-215


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