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Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered that, under the right conditions, newly developed nanocrystalline materials exhibit surprising activity in the tiny spaces between the geometric clusters of atoms called nanocrystals from which they are made.

This finding, detailed recently in the journal Science, is important because these nanomaterials are becoming more ubiquitous in the fabrication of microdevices and integrated circuits. Movement in the atomic realm can affect the mechanical properties of these futuristic materials — making them more flexible and less brittle — and may alter the material’s lifespan.

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