The present trend of developing electronic devices with increasingly fine dimensions borders on a number of fundamental scientific questions about the very nature of how materials at ultrafine dimensions behave. This article addresses some of these questions. The fabrication of discrete metallic phases in porous and nonporous glassy matrices presents a number of exciting device possibilities. Methods of fabricating ultrafine metallic phases in silica via the sol-gel route are presented.
In attempting to fabricate materials with ultrafine physical dimensions for a wide variety of applications, several fundamental questions arise about the nature of materials behavior. For example, how many metal atoms are necessary to form a cluster exhibiting “metallic“ properties? Moreover, does the number of atoms necessary depend upon which metallic property is examined? This question has been partly addressed by D.C. Johnson and co-workers with regard to magnetism in osmium clusters. Their results show a threefold increase in magnetic susceptibility between clusters containing 3–10 osmium atoms.
Another important question, especially when considering device applications, is how the relative contributions of surface and bulk thermodynamics affect such properties as phase transformations. In addition, ultrafine phase dimensions interact with the fundamental unit lengths of a wide range of processes, including the wavelength of visible light, the mean free path lengths of conduction processes, the wavelengths of phonon vibrations, etc. How do these interactions affect optical, thermal, and electronic properties?
Fabrication of ultrafine metallic particles in porous and nonporous matrices may lead to many possible device applications including heterogeneous catalysts, nonlinear optic devices, highvoltage switching devices based on interparticle tunneling, and perhaps even new types of charge storage devices (capacitors).