10 August 2021

[Nanotechnology] – Using liquid metals in nanotechnology.

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The conventional definition of liquid metals refers to metals with melting points near or below room temperature. Liquid metals are elemental or alloyed materials predominantly composed of post-transition and zinc group metals (excluding zinc itself). Mercury (Hg) and gallium (Ga) are the two most recognized elemental liquid metals. Hg has a low melting point of -38.8°C, but its potential hazards rule it out for many applications. Ga has a melting point of 29.8°C and is considered to have low toxicity, which makes it suitable for many applications.

As they explain, this is based “on the accessibility of achieving a molten state, considering that even cookware in household kitchens can operate within this range of temperatures. There are several other reasons for choosing this limit: 1) many industrial processes operate below this limit, namely, polymer melt processing, thus opening the possibility of new processes for nanocomposites; 2) common laboratory equipment such as ovens and hot plates operate in this range; and 3) liquid metals may be co-processed with other liquids, such as water or organics, that are routinely processed at increased temperatures.”

The recent interest in liquid metals is based on the properties that differentiate them from common liquids such as water or organics. In addition to their chemical reactivity, the electronic behavior of these liquids, combined with the strong interatomic interactions throughout the bulk, lead to liquids with high densities, thermal and electrical conductivities, and optical reflectivity (over a wide range of wavelengths).

The recent interest in liquid metals is based on the properties that differentiate them from common liquids such as water or organics. In addition to their chemical reactivity, the electronic behavior of these liquids, combined with the strong interatomic interactions throughout the bulk, lead to liquids with high densities, thermal and electrical conductivities, and optical reflectivity (over a wide range of wavelengths).

Alloying liquid metals with other elements provides additional depth to the field of liquid metals by creating materials with tunable properties. Although metallurgy of solids is a mature field in many aspects, the study of low-melting-point metals is still underexplored, especially when dealing with nanoscale domains of solids within liquid alloys.

This presents nanotechnology researchers with new potential approaches for the synthesis of nanomaterials and investigations of fundamental physics and chemistry at small length scales. Fundamentally, liquid metals are reaction media with great potential for the synthesis and manipulation of a variety of nanomaterials within the bulk or on the surfaces of liquid metals.

The authors write that, at their interface, liquid metals have fascinating properties that depend strongly on the surrounding environment: “In an inert ambient environment, liquid metals have the highest surface tension of nearly any liquid due to the strong metallic bonding between the atoms. In addition, the more relaxed interatomic interactions near the surface (relative to the bulk) lead to special properties and thus offer chemical opportunities at the interfaces.”

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