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Porous nanomaterials made of metal promise exciting applications because they are both ultralight and extremely strong – qualities in demand in aircraft construction, energy-efficient cars, and safe industrial plants. Scientist have nevertheless previously lacked detailed insight into how the properties of nanoparticles arise. Previous findings have come mostly from computer simulations.

Researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University of Hamburg have now come up with a mechanical test procedure for nanoparticles . What they did was to link together billions of gold nanoparticles into a porous, sponge-like network. From this, it was possible to produce millimeter-sized sample cylinders large enough to be tested with a testing machine. As experts had conjectured, the processes on the surface of the nanoparticle contribute significantly to its enormous strength. A relatively large portion of the atoms is located at the surface of these particles: "The surface effects are thus essential in accounting for the mechanical properties."

The findings could help develop new nanomaterial-based materials in a more targeted manner. They could be of particular interest for lightweight construction and materials with built-in sensor properties. The Federal Ministry of Economics considers lightweight construction a key technology. It is thus funding various measures in this area such as the Lightweight Construction Atlas , which aims at networking the individual actors involved in research, development and application and support technology transfer.