The total size of the world's smallest lattice structure is roughly 10 micrometers. Photo by J. Bauer / KIT
KARLSRUHE, Germany, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Researchers at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, or KIT, have built the world's tiniest lattice structure using glassy carbon struts and braces.
Though the components measure less than 200 nanometers in diameter and just a single micrometer in length, the resulting structure boasts a higher specific strength than most solids.
Described in the latest edition of Nature Materials, the 3D lattice structure is five times smaller than the closest comparable nanomaterials and features an unparalleled strength-to-density ratio.
"Lightweight construction materials, such as bones and wood, are found everywhere in nature," lead study author Jens Bauer, said in a news release. "They have a high load-bearing capacity and small weight and, hence, serve as models for mechanical metamaterials for technical applications."
The tiny structure is assembled via 3D laser lithography technology and then hardened using a laser-based material known as a photoresist.
Next, the structure is shrunk using a process called pyrolysis. When the structure is exposed to temperatures upwards of 900 degrees Celsius in a vacuum furnace, all elements but carbon escape as the chemical bonds reorient themselves.
What's left is an even smaller lattice structure in the form of glassy carbon.
"According to the results, the load-bearing capacity of the lattice is very close to the theoretical limit and far above that of unstructured glassy carbon," said study co-author Oliver Kraft. "Diamond is the only solid having a higher specific stability."
Microsctructures are often employed in insulation or for shock absorption, but researchers say the new lattice structure could also be used in electrodes, filters or optical components.