As demand for smaller and faster devices grows, scientists and engineers turn to materials with properties that can deliver when existing ones lose their punch or can’t shrink enough.

For wearable tech, electronic cloth or extremely thin, researchers have begun to tune the atomic structures of nanomaterials. The materials they test need to bend as a person moves, but not go all noodly or snap, as well as hold up under different temperatures and still give enough juice to run the software functions users expect out of their desktops and phones.

Researchers are using electrically insulating nanotubes for electronics by adding gold and iron nanoparticles on the surface of boron nitride nanotubes. The metal-nanotube structures enhanced the material’s quantum tunneling, acting like atomic steppingstones that could help electronics escape the confines of silicon transistors that power most of today’s devices.

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