“Nothing happens. Nothing happens. And then everything happens,” says Laura Lewis, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Our results are highly preliminary but we have found signatures of layering in the materials we have made.” This is significant, she says, because the layering of iron and nickel suggests that the nanomaterial they are trying to make can become a “supermagnet”. It is designed to be a synthetic form of tetrataenite, a rare magnetic extra-terrestrial iron-nickel alloy found only in meteorites.

Lewis is leading a $3.3m (£2.2m) fast-track Department of Energy research project to synthesise new supermagnetic materials and then work out how to mass-produce them for a market that is worth $20bn (£13bn) a year.