When people plant gardens, they have to wait for weeks or months to see the beauty of their efforts. But in the lab at the University of Cambridge's Nanoscience Centre, these nanoflowers, tiny blossoms of silicon carbide one thousand times thinner than the diameter of a human hair, "grow" almost instantly. The "gardeners" are nanotechnologists Mark Welland and Ghim Wei Ho, and they're using microscopic metal particles as the "seeds".

But they don't just grow the nanoflowers for their beauty, they repel water so well that they could be used to waterproof car windshields, eliminating the need for wipers.

The researchers begin by heating a tiny droplet of the metal gallium, only a few thousand atoms wide, in a computer-controlled oven. Then they flow methane gas over the droplet, which is attracted to it's molten surface and induces tiny, rigid rods, or wires, of silicon (what sand is made of) and carbon to grow there. By controlling the temperature and flow of the gas, Ho and Welland can weave the wires into flower-like shapes.

Source: sciencentral.comAdded: 30 September 2005