In the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, nature’s techniques by which these exquisitely assembled structures are produced are much admired and means to replicate them keenly sought. Much has been achieved in nano self assembly but nature’s best forms have twists that have so far eluded the nano scientist. But recently a large multinational research team has produced exquisite complex nano-structures using engineering principles more familiar from the macro world. I was immediately struck by the similarity between their forms and those devised in concrete shells by the Swiss engineer Heinz Isler. Isler used the play of natural forces to create his shapes, starting with models such as a damp dishcloth, pegged so that it hangs under gravity, then frozen. To create the shell the hanging pattern is inverted, which means that the pattern of stresses is perfectly balanced.
In a nano echo of Isler’s work, the US/Chinese team orchestrate stress patterns at the nano level to make their silicon ribbons buckle into predictable shapes.
Science, 9 January 2015, pp. 154-9.