sing tiny globes known as nanoshells, four American universities have been able to create a seven-shelled structure that is not only self-assembling, but that creates what is known as a Fano resonance, which only occurs in man-made light bending substances.
Nanoshells were originally developed by Rice University, are are twenty times smaller than a red blood cell. Their core is a glass sphere, surrounded by a gold coating. While these sound a bit like a tiny Ferrero Rocher chocolate balls, varying the size of the sphere and the thickness of the gold coating allows scientists to fine-tune the wavelengths of light that will interact with the sphere, rather than simply creating giant chocolaty holiday pyramids.
Currently, nanoshells are being used to treat cancer in a minimally invasive procedure, and are also used for medical diagnostics.
Researchers hope that the new Lego nanoshell, the "heptamer" will allow for the development of sensitive chemical sensors along with nanolasers and photonic circuitry. In theory, the Fano resonance created by these nanoshells will permit light to not only be stored, but also bent in ways unique to these man-made structures.
The team, spurred on in part due to a 2008 prediction by professor Peter Nordlander, in which he postulated that heptamer nanoshells would exhibit this resonance, has not stopped at merely the heptamer. They have also begun to develop magnetic three nanoshell "trimer" structures, both because it will further the cause of science and because it is totally awesome.
Essentially, single nanoshells are able to act as the small "one" pieces of Lego on which everything else is built. While you could build an entire house out of these, it would take a loooong time and would be weak in several places. By bonding their Legos into a more robust and powerful set, they've substantially increased the build options as well as the potential scientific fun to be had.