Quite by chance, researchers in the Departments Laboratory for
Nanoscale Science have discovered a process which has rendered fellow researchers in the field
speechless. They have discovered how to fabricate single crystals of carbon nanotubes in neatly ordered
arrays, a discovery which should allow the full potential of this unique form of carbon to be realised.
"Our findings were totally unexpected - it was one of those amazing results that happens almost by chance. We
were actually trying to fill nanotubes with metal, using a technique that had been reported elsewhere, when
we realised that we had succeeded in producing arrays of perfect nanotubes, something that has not been
achieved before," comments Dr Colm Durkan, a lecturer in the Department of Engineering.
"We discovered that by using fullerene molecules, a form of carbon commonly known as 'Bucky Balls', as the
starting point for growing nanotubes, adding a suitable catalyst and heating to 900°C, we can produce
arrays of aligned carbon nanotubes, all with identical properties. These are single crystals of carbon in a
new form. That means we now have the technology to fabricate nanotubes with the electrical and mechanical
properties that we require, and we can position them where we want and at any orientation. This is also a
major step towards being able to produce carbon nanotubes as a bulk material, and we can already begin to
investigate many different applications for the material."
|An electron microscope image of a carbon nanotube crystal showing
the perfectly aligned array of tubes within the single crystal structure. Each tube has a diameter of only