A nanoscale welding technique has been developed by sparking high-temperature chemical reactions inside "nanopores".
The technique could ultimately be used to weld together nanoscale components and could also lend itself to nanoscopic chemistry experiments, say the researchers.
Richter says nanoscale thermite reactions could perhaps be used to "weld" together molecular machines. But the real value of the technique could be more wide-ranging, he believes. The holes filled with iron oxide could be used as nano-receptacles for other chemicals, giving chemists finer control of chemical reactions, he says.
"This is something we couldn't do before - chemists have to rely on random processes to bring reactants together," Richter told New Scientist. "Being able to impose order on such a small scale could make a big difference."
For example, Richter suggests the technique might be used in manufacturing metal compounds. "The strength of alloys depends on how many flaws they have, and the technique we developed could allow very ordered arrangement of different compounds to make sure no flaws form," he says.