Sound is used to shape nanoparticles into nanocomposite metamaterial structures

These images show microcomputed x‑ray tomography renderings of an acoustically engineered nanocomposite metamaterial based on ~5nm‑diameter diamond nanoparticles.

A very simple bench-top technique that uses the force of acoustical waves to create a variety of 3D structures will benefit the rapidly expanding field of metamaterials and their myriad applications—including “invisibility cloaks.” Sound is used to shape nanoparticles into nanocomposite metamaterial structures.

Metamaterials are artificial materials that are engineered to have properties not found in nature. These materials usually gain their unusual properties—such as negative refraction that enables subwavelength focusing, negative bulk modulus, and band gaps—from structure rather than composition.

By creating an inexpensive bench-top technique, as described in the American Institute of Physics’ journal Review of Scientific Instruments, Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) researchers are making these highly desirable metamaterials more accessible.

Their technique harnesses an acoustical wave force, which causes nano-sized particles to cluster in periodic patterns in a host fluid that is later solidified, explains Farid Mitri, a Director’s Fellow, and member of the Sensors & Electrochemical Devices, Acoustics & Sensors Technology Team, at LANL.

“The periodicity of the pattern formed is tunable and almost any kind of particle material can be used, including: metal, insulator, semiconductor, piezoelectric, hollow or gas-filled sphere, nanotubes and nanowires,” he elaborates.

The entire process of structure formation is very fast and takes anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes. Mitri and colleagues believe this technique can be easily adapted for large-scale manufacturing and holds the potential to become a platform technology for the creation of a new class of materials with extensive flexibility in terms of periodicity (mm to nm) and the variety of materials that can be used.

“This new class of acoustically engineered materials can lead to the discovery of many emergent phenomena, understanding novel mechanisms for the control of material properties, and hybrid metamaterials,” says Mitri.

Applications of the technology, to name only a few, include: invisibility cloaks to hide objects from radar and sonar detection, sub-wavelength focusing for production of high-resolution lenses for microscopes and medical ultrasound/optical imaging probes, miniature directional antennas, development of novel anisotropic semiconducting metamaterials for the construction of effective electromagnetic devices, biological scaffolding for tissue engineering, light guide, and a variety of sensors.

Review of Scientific Instruments – Characterization of acoustically engineered polymer nanocomposite metamaterials using x-ray microcomputed tomography

We demonstrate the fabrication of acoustically engineered diamond nanoparticles-based metamaterials and their internal microstructure characterization using x-ray microcomputed tomography (XμCT). The state-of-the-art technique based on the radiation force of ultrasound standing (or stationary) waves in a rectangular chamber is utilized to pattern clusters of 5-nm-diameter diamond nanoparticles in parallel planes within a three-dimensional (3D) matrix of epoxy before solidification. Gradually, the periodic pattern becomes permanent with full cure of the epoxy matrix so as to form a 3D metamaterial structure. We also show that the periodicity of the pattern can be changed by selecting a different ultrasound frequency. Furthermore, XμCT is used as a quality control tool to map the internal structure and characterize each metamaterial. The ultimate application is to use the results as a base for the development of finite-element models which take into account all the structural features to study the various metamaterial (optical, acoustical, thermal, etc.) functional properties.

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