In a winter of seem­ingly end­less snow and ice, what if there were a better way of for­ti­fying roads against potholes?

What if this same tech­nology could be used to build stronger bridges, create solar panels, even pen­e­trate and selec­tively kill cancer cells?

They’re called nanocrys­tals — par­ti­cles so small that their width mea­sures about 1/80,000 of the diam­eter of a single strand of hair. And they are so light and so strong that NASA once said they the­o­ret­i­cally could be used to build an ele­vator to the moon.

The excite­ment to me was that they could be made out of almost any­thing,” said Thomas Web­ster, chairman of North­eastern University’s Depart­ment of Chem­ical Engi­neering, “and by shrinking that thing down in size, you could change its properties.”

One way to do this is to start with the mate­rial in its normal form and evap­o­rate it into indi­vidual atoms by heating it, Web­ster said. The degree of heat nec­es­sary depends on the mate­rial and can range from about 100 degrees to melt a polymer such as Tup­per­ware, to as much as 9,000 degrees to melt metal. Then the atoms are col­lected on a cold sur­face, where they con­dense and form nanocrystals.

Read the article at Boston Herald →