A soft "tissue paper" made from normally brittle germanium and silicon contains individual fibers as strong as bulletproof Kevlar. Woven into traditional fabric or embedded in hard plastics, the new nanowires could stop bullets, harvest solar energy or perform dozens of other tasks.
"Paper is made of wood fibers compressed together," said Brian Korgel, a scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of a new paper in ACS Nano that describes the germanium nanowires. "In this case, we took bulk semiconductors, turned them into nanowires and compressed them together to make a material with a tissue paper consistency."
Germanium is usually quite hard and brittle. "When I handle a block of the bulk material, I have to handle it very carefully so it doesn''t break," said Korgel.