Metamaterials can do so much that natural materials can't do, like have incredible strength or tunable conductivity. They can have these amazing properties because we can design and build them atom by atom, making crystal superlattices.
The key to building these structures are artificial atoms. Admittedly, the name is a bit misleading, because they're not atoms we somehow built proton by proton. Rather, they're extremely tiny crystals made of anywhere from 100 to 10,000 atoms.
They're still so small they experience quantum effects, which gives them special properties depending on their how big they are, how they're shaped, and what they're made of. For example spherical artificial atoms called quantum dots glow different colors depending on their size.
A two nanometer quantum dot gives off blue light when excited, while a six nanometer dot glows red, even when both dots are made of the same material. Superlattices can be built using artificial atoms (again, synthetic crystals) in place of regular atoms so the structure can be really fine tuned, but it was always thought the process had to be a slow one.
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