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Nanotubes Line Up to Form Films

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Rice University researchers have discovered a simple method to make films of highly aligned carbon nanotubes. The films can be separated from their backgrounds and show potential for use in electronic and photonic applications. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

A simple filtration process helped Rice University researchers create flexible, wafer-scale films of highly aligned and closely packed carbon nanotubes. Scientists at Rice, with support from Los Alamos National Laboratory, have made inch-wide films of densely packed, chirality-enriched single-walled carbon nanotubes. In the right solution of nanotubes and under the right conditions, the tubes assemble themselves by the millions into long rows that are aligned better than once thought possible, the researchers reported. The thin films offer possibilities for making flexible electronic and photonic (light-manipulating) devices, said Rice physicist Junichiro Kono, whose lab led the study. Think of a bendable computer chip, rather than a brittle silicon one, and the potential becomes clear, he said. The Rice lab is closing in, Kono said, but the films reported in the current paper are “chirality-enriched” rather than single-chirality. A carbon nanotube is a cylinder of graphene, with its atoms arranged in hexagons. How the hexagons are turned sets the tube’s chirality, and that determines its electronic properties. Some are semiconducting like silicon, and others are metallic conductors. A film of perfectly aligned, single-chirality nanotubes would have specific electronic properties. Controlling the chirality would allow for tunable films, Kono said, but nanotubes grow in batches of random types.