Newly discovered ‘black silver’ material has some amazing properties

3 Dec 2018

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Researchers in Singapore have discovered a new material dubbed ‘black silver’ that holds some incredible properties.

Materials science’s golden age continues with news that a team from the Singapore University of Design and Technology (SUTD) has discovered a new material with a name as exotic as its potential.

The team revealed ‘black silver’, a new, inexpensive nanomaterial that has applications ranging from biomolecule detectors to solar energy conversion. This is because its strong absorption of light makes it ideal for solar cells, while its structure can be engineered to optically detect minute traces of biomolecules.

Key to its remarkable performance, the team explained, is its nanostructure, which strongly interacts with visible and infrared light. Contained within the material are silver particles 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair and, unlike other methods used in nanostructures, the fabrication method is incredibly straightforward. This means that the material can be coated on to a range of substrates, including flexible plastics.

Diagram of black silver at a normal scale and microscopic scale.

Highly absorbent (black) self-organised silver nanostructure form on flexible plastics as well as glass and silicon. Image: SUTD

Progress so far

“The material can be deposited at room temperature on a range of substrates without patterning or acids. So far, we have deposited the material over 100mm diameter plastic, silicon and silica samples,” said Robert Simpson, an assistant professor at SUTD.

“This single-step, large-area fabrication method makes the material industrially relevant. Indeed, the nanostructures were grown using a modified technique that is commonly used to manufacture tinted films on large-area window glass.”

The research was published in Nano Energy, in collaboration with Dalian University of Science and Technology.

It comes just a few weeks after a materials scientist was left stunned by the discovery that gold could be melted at room temperature. After placing a small piece of gold in an electron microscope, researcher Ludvig de Knoop of Chalmers University in Sweden ramped up the magnification to the maximum and increased the electric field step by step to see what would happen to the gold’s atoms.

“I was really stunned by the discovery. This is an extraordinary phenomenon, and it gives us new, foundational knowledge of gold,” De Knoop said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic