Silicon Nanospheres Rank Among Hardest Known Materials

University of Minnesota researchers have made the first-ever hardness measurements on individual silicon nanospheres and shown that the nanospheres’ hardness falls between the conventional hardness of sapphire and diamond, which are among the hardest known materials. Being able to measure such nanoparticle properties may eventually help scientists design low-cost superhard materials from these nanoscale building blocks. Up to four times harder than typical silicon — a principal ingredient of computer chips, glass and sand — the nanospheres demonstrate that other materials at the nanoscale, including sapphire, may also have vastly improved mechanical properties.

One to go

Oh Vladimir. We had such high hopes for you. Five years after your countryman lost to Deep Blue, it looked for a while there that you would actually defeat its silicon successor, Deep Fritz. But now, after an initial spurt of victory, Fritz has pulled even, just one game away from condemning humans again to the trash heap of chess playing history. Sure, you sound optimistic. “I’m not depressed,” you say. “When you play such a wonderful game you can’t be. It could have gone either way. Fritz played such great defense. I think I can still win the match.” But with $1 million riding on the outcome of the “Brains in Bahrain” competition, can your nerves handle the pressure?

It’s the little things we remember

On the plus side (Eds: see the minus side below), Hewlett-Packard today is set to announce what it describes as a breakthrough in building nano-sized computer memory. The company has developed a technique for building a matrix of super-thin platinum wires atop a piece of silicon. So small is the resulting 64-bit memory unit that 1,000 of them could fit on the end of a single strand of hair. Even in the world of PCs, that’s small.