Nanotubes with wings

Diamonds are the hardest known substance and carbon nanotubes are the
strongest. Scientists in the US have tried to combine the two by creating a composite nanostructure.

Diamonds are the hardest known substance. Carbon nanotubes are the strongest. To create a material that combined the best properties from both, scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have attempted to create a composite nanostructure.

To do so, they stood the nanotubes up on their ends and then put them under a plasma reactor. Since the plasma is usually used to grow ultrananocrystaline diamonds, a type of diamond film with nanometre grains, the researchers thought diamonds would grow on the ends of the tubes.

But the results were not as expected.

Instead, the experiment altered the surface area of the nanotubes, creating wing-like extensions. Even though the result wasn’t what the experimenters were looking for, the modified surfaces of the nanotubes, with increased surface area and number of reactive points, may push nanotubes further into the world of practical and applied materials and systems.

That’s because as the number of reactive zones increases, the number of molecular groups that can attach to the nanotubes increases. The increase in surface area could change electron emission properties, which are important in potential nanotube applications such as flat panel displays. More emission sites mean a larger current flow, which means a brighter display.

Wings could also help anchor nanotubes to polymers. Presently, the two rarely make a good connection. With this advance, nanotubes might find new applications in chemical sensors, probe tips, fuel cells, particle X-rays, fabrics, nanowires and artificial muscles.