Twisting spires are one of the 3D shapes researchers at the University of Michigan were able to develop using a new manufacturing process.(Image Credit: University of Michigan, A. John Hart )
Twisting spires, concentric rings, and gracefully bending petals are a few of the new three-dimensional shapes that University of Michigan engineers can make from carbon nanotubes using a new manufacturing process. The process is called “capillary forming,” and it takes advantage of capillary action, the phenomenon at work when liquids seem to defy gravity and spontaneously travel up a drinking straw. The new miniature shapes have the potential to harness the exceptional mechanical, thermal, electrical, and chemical properties of carbon nanotubes in a scalable fashion, said A. John Hart, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and in the School of Art & Design. The 3D nanotube structures could enable countless new materials and microdevices, including probes that can interface with individual cells, novel microfluidic devices, and lightweight materials for aircraft and spacecraft.
“It’s easy to make carbon nanotubes straight and vertical like buildings,” Hart said. “It hasn’t been possible to make them into more complex shapes. Assembling nanostructures into three-dimensional shapes is one of the major goals of nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing. The method of capillary forming could be applied to many types of nanotubes and nanowires, and its scalability is very attractive for manufacturing.” Hart’s method starts by patterning a thin metal film on a silicon wafer. This film is the iron catalyst that facilitates the growth of vertical carbon nanotube “forests” in patterned shapes. It’s a sort of template. Rather than pattern the catalyst into uniform shapes such as circles and squares, Hart's team patterns a variety of unique shapes such as hollow circles, half circles, and circles with smaller ones cut from their centers. The shapes are arranged in different orientations and groupings, creating different templates for later forming the 3D structures using capillary action.
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