Professor Payne explains: "Weight for weight, silica nanowires are 15 times stronger than high strength steel and 10 times stronger than conventional GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic). We can decrease the amount of material used thereby reducing the weight of the object.
"Silica and oxygen, required to produce nanowires, are the two most common elements on the earth's crust, making it sustainable and cheap to exploit. Furthermore, we can produce silica nanofibres by the tonne, just as we currently do for the optical fibres that power the internet."
The research findings came about following five years of investigations by Dr Brambilla and Professor Payne using Gilberto's 500,000 Fellowship funding from the Royal Society.
Dr Brambilla shared his findings with fellow researchers at a special seminar he organised recently at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre, at Chicheley Hall, in Buckinghamshire.
"It was particularly challenging dealing with fibres that were so small. They are nearly 1,000 times smaller than a human hair and I was handling them with my bare hands," says Dr Brambilla.
"It took me some time to get used to it, but using the state-of-the-art facilities at the ORC I was able to discover that silica nanofibres become stronger the smaller they get. In fact when they become very, very small they behave in a completely different way. They stop being fragile and don't break like glass but instead become ductile and break like plastic. This means they can be strained a lot.
"Up until now most of our research has been into the science of nanowires but in the future we are particularly interested in investigating the technology and applications of these fibres," adds Dr Brambilla.
|Contact: Glenn Harris|
University of Southampton