Just as many researchers are working to manipulate real atoms and build materials from atomic levels, others are doing the same thing with computers to simulate these materials and investigate their properties before they are developed in ‘reality’.
Increasing advances in computational power means that these computer models allow researchers to examine such materials in far more depth than ‘bench scientists’ could ever hope to.
Such work has been proven by scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center to prove true. Computer models indicated that carbon nanotubes rolled in a particular direction behave like a metal. In another direction, like a semiconductor. By combining the two in a particular manner the model showed that a nanodevice could be built that functions as a transistor. The computer models have now been proved correct as the NASA Ames team have fabricated the materials predicted in the model.
A promising area for this technology to be applied is in the generation of energy. A lot of ongoing research is concerned with fuel cell technology where fossil fuels are replaced with hydrogen. Fuel cells use a catalyst to remove electrons from hydrogen and create electricity. Unfortunately the catalyst is platinum which is expensive and a finite resource. Researchers at Stanford University are using computer models to determine what makes platinum such a good catalyst and then find a cheap, abundant material that has similar properties.