Shooting Off Nanotubes to Unzip Them
Depending on its form, carbon can be a very useful material with special properties, but producing the proper form can be difficult and messy. Typically the methods used are chemical in nature, which can leave residues that have to be cleaned off and may be tricky to work with. Researchers at Rice University however have found a means to create graphene nanoribbons mechanically, and this could have some large impacts on future technologies.
To make graphene nanoribbons, one starts with carbon nanotubes, which are essentially the ribbons wrapped into a cylinder. By unzipping them you have the desired nanoribbons, and traditional methods applied chemistry to trigger the unzipping, which then requires cleaning the ribbons. The Rice researchers discovered that nanotubes could also be unzipped by firing them at 15,000 miles per hour at a target in a vacuum chamber. If the nanotubes strike the target along their length, the impact will crush the tube walls and cause them to unzip. Nanotubes that strike end first or at a steep angle though just crumbled. The researchers were firing the nanotubes at that speed to find possible applications for space missions, as such hypervelocity impacts are used to test projectiles on shields, spacecraft, and satellites.
By providing an easy and clean means to produce high-quality graphene nanoribbons, this research could help make them more accessible for future technologies. Thanks to their superb electrical properties, graphene nanoribbons could one day be used to create advanced electronic materials.
Source: Rice University