Magazine article Science News

Nanotube ID: New Signatures Aid Nanotech Progress

Magazine article Science News

Nanotube ID: New Signatures Aid Nanotech Progress

Article excerpt

Carbon nanotubes have been on researchers' A list of promising materials for a decade. However, these tiny tubes--each essentially a rolled-up sheet of graphite about a nanometer wide--are a diverse lot. That's made it tough for scientists to know what kinds of tubes they have in hand, and those with different diameters and structures can have very different properties.

In a step that could alleviate that problem, researchers now have developed a means for rapidly distinguishing among 33 semiconducting varieties of the tiny cylinders. Means to inventory the nanotubes in a diverse sample provide the first step toward sorting them or producing specific types. Supplies of particular tubes, in turn, could speed development of products ranging from electronic displays to spacecraft shells.

Researchers have long sought efficient methods for identifying and sorting carbon nanotubes, says R. Bruce Weisman of Rice University in Houston. Even a minor difference in a nanotube's structure, for example, can make the material act like a metal instead of a semiconductor.

Weisman, Rice University chemist Richard E. Smalley, and their colleagues report the nanotube signatures in an upcoming issue of Science.

The work ranks as `landmark research, says carbon nanotube scientist Ray Baughman of the University of Texas at Dallas. The Rice researchers used methods that "elegantly, efficiently, and reliably characterize the structure of semiconducting nanotubes," he says. …

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