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Posted: Aug 29, 2008
Patent granted for continuous flow method for the separation of carbon nanotubes according to their chiralities
(Nanowerk News) The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted a patent for a MITRE-developed process that provides a path to achieving what has been called the "Holy Grail" of nanotechnology. U.S. Patent number 7,347,981 was issued to MITRE earlier this year. It covers a continuous flow method for the separation of carbon nanotubes according to their chiralities, the characteristic twists in their molecular structures.
"The importance of MITRE's newly patented process is that it provides a possible route toward mass production of carbon nanomaterials with just the properties one wants," says James Ellenbogen, leader of MITRE's Nanosystems Group, and one of the four inventors. "This could help make possible the practical application of carbon nanotubes for ultra-strong materials and for ultra-dense nanoelectronics."
Four Collaborators Refine the Process
The ideas underlying the invention arose in work begun in the late 1990s by co-inventor Monika Schleier-Smith, who was then a 16-year-old high school student and a summer technical aide working with Ellenbogen. Schleier-Smith has since graduated from Harvard University and is now a Hertz Fellow in her third year in the physics graduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She and Ellenbogen also are co-inventors of a lower volume method for performing the nanotube separation. That method was the subject of an earlier U.S. patent issued to MITRE in 2003.
Schleier-Smith and Ellenbogen later collaborated with the other two co-inventors of the new patent, Professor Vincent Crespi of Penn State University and his graduate student Al Kolmogorov. Together, the four developed the newer, high-volume refinement of the nanotube separation method. In addition to being co-inventors of the recently issued patent on that refined method, the four collaborators wrote and published a 2004 paper in the Physical Review Letters. That paper explained the underlying physical basis for the separation.
It also displayed simulation results suggesting that the effects working in favor of the separation were much stronger than they had hoped or expected.
Optimistic About the Outcome
As a result, MITRE Nanotechnology Laboratory Director Carl Picconatto has been performing physical experiments to refine and to demonstrate the efficacy of MITRE's patented carbon nanotube separation processes. "The results of the experiments to date have matched the predictions of the earlier paper," says Picconatto. "So we're optimistic about the outcome of our further, ongoing nanotube separation experiments."
"This technology may prove to be a breakthrough that allows carbon nanotubes to be used on an industrial scale for a variety of applications," says Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Steve Huffman. "It is the latest in a long succession of innovations arising from MITRE's nanotechnology research. I congratulate the inventors on this patent award and commend Dr. Ellenbogen for his outstanding long-term leadership of our nanotechnology research group."