Carbon nanotubes will transform our materials

(Nanowerk News) The world’s largest conference on carbon nanomaterials, NT13, was held June 24–28 at Aalto University. Over 400 scientists and industry experts joined the event to share their knowledge on the fundamental science and applications of carbon nanotubes and graphene.
To open the conference with her keynote speech was a pioneer in the field, MIT Professor Mildred D. Dresselhaus. She has performed the very first experiments on the electrical properties of carbon nanomaterials in the 1960s and has been at the forefront of the research ever since.
– Carbon nanotubes are an amazing phenomenon, and their research took off in a great flurry in the early 1990s. Although there has been a rise in applied research recently, we are discovering new phenomena also on the fundamental level all the time, describes Dresselhaus.
Carbon nanotubes are rolls of graphene, which isa single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. They are about to reform electronic components and devices as much as energy technology.
– 20 years ago there was a prediction that it could be possible to make carbon nanotubes and that they would have properties unlike any other known material – and that they could conduct electricity or work as semiconductors. It is not until recent years that we have been able to control the complex structures of carbon nanotubes, outlines Professor Dresselhaus the progress in the field.
Material revolution in the nanoscale
Well over 10 000 scientific articles on carbon nanotubes and graphene are published every year. That is why large conferences integrating all the research are so important for individual researchers and the community as a whole, commends Professor Dresselhaus.
Also delivering a keynote speech in NT13, Hisanori Shinohara, Professor at Nagoya University, has had an extensive career in making ground-breaking experiments on embedding atoms, molecules, fullerenes in carbon nanotubes to make different kinds of nanowires.
– Metal atom wires made inside carbon nanotubes are completely stable and with them we can drastically alter the electrical and magnetic properties of the nanotubes. This way we can make carbon nanotubes into semiconductors, describes Professor Shinohara.
– By combining carbon nanotubes and graphene and by filling nanotubes with metal atoms or even with diamonds, as Professor Shinohara has done, we can come upon totally new hybrid materials and learn how to control them, adds Esko Kauppinen, Chair of the NT13 conference and Professor in the Aalto University Department of Applied Physics.
In the last few years the research of carbon nanotubes has taken a significant turn for applications. Dresselhaus, Shinohara and Kauppinen all find it exceptional that the fundamental science and applied technologies of carbon nanotubes and graphene have evolved almost side-by-side.
– Definitely we are now on the brink of a material revolution. It took nearly 20 years to achieve the first commercial applications for carbon nanotubes. Now is the time to really push on with them, assures Professor Shinohara.
Bendable tablets and energy efficient thin films in Finnish–Japanese collaboration
Aalto University School of Science and Nagoya University are about to launch a sizeable joint venture to study technology based on carbon nanotubes and use it for transistors and thin films.
– Professor Kauppinen’s group will provide us with carbon nanotubes from which we will try to separate with a solution process almost 100 percent semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Groups led by Kauppinen here at Aalto University, and in Nagoya University led by Professor Yutaka Ohno, will further make these into completely non-metallic, bendable and stretchable thin films for transistor applications, plans Shinohara.
Soon our tablet computers will twist and bend thanks to carbon nanotubes, and for instance the surfaces of solar cells will be based on them. Also the emissions of carbon nanomaterials are minuscule – and from them carbon can extracted for re-use.
– We actually use both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide to make carbon nanotubes in our group, reveals Professor Kauppinen.
– A perfectly green cycle then, Professor Shinohara applauds.
Source: Aalto University
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