It's called dielectrophoresis, a new technique for growing microwires. Alternating electrical currents are passed through a solution of water and microscopic gold particles, producing a wire that is one-hundredth the thickness of a human hair. As the wire bridges the gap from one electrical terminal to the other, it gives off thousands of tiny branches, much like a vine climbing a brick wall. University of Delaware graduate student Kevin Hermanson, lead author of a paper describing the method, has created webs of interconnected wires that might eventually be used to create microcircuits on computer chips. The wires are fragile -- too much current can blow them like a fuse, creating a gap through which current cannot pass. But according to Hermanson, if gold particles remain suspended in the water, the wires will reassemble, closing the gap and restoring the flow of current.
They are also strangely beautiful.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.