Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Shaking things up: NIST researchers propose new old way to purify carbon nanotubes

An old, somewhat passé, trick used to purify protein samples based on their affinity for water has found new fans at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where materials scientists are using it to divvy up solutions of carbon nanotubes, separating the metallic nanotubes from semiconductors. They say it's a fast, easy and cheap way to produce high-purity samples of carbon nanotubes for use in nanoscale electronics and many other applications.*

Carbon nanotubes are formed from rolled-up sheets of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern resembling chicken wire. One of the amazing features of nanotubes is that, depending on just how the sheet rolls up, a quality called chirality, the resulting tube can behave either like a semiconductor, with various properties, or like a metal, with electrical conductance up to 10 times better than copper. One big issue in creating commercially viable electronics based on nanotubes is being able to efficiently sort out the kind you want.

Shown are three examples of partitioning carbon nanotubes in liquid phases. Left: nanotubes partitioned by diameter. Smaller diameters, on the bottom, appear purple. Center: partitioned between semiconductors (amber, top) and metals. Right: A sample with different diameter range partitioned between metals (yellow) and semiconductors. Color differences are due to differences in electronic structure.

Credit: Michael Baum, NIST

Thinking about how to do this, says NIST researcher Constantine Khripin, brought up the subject of biochemists and so-called "two-phase liquid extraction." "Biologists used this to separate proteins, even viruses," says Khripin, "It's an old technique, it was popular in the 70s, but then HPLC [high-performance liquid chromatography] replaced a lot of those techniques." People use HPLC to partition carbon nanotubes as well, he says, but it's less successful. HPLC divides things by exploiting differences in the mobility of the desired molecules as they travel small columns loaded with tiny spheres, but carbon nanotubes tend to stick to the spheres, reducing yield and eventually clogging the equipment.

The concept of liquid extraction is relatively straightforward. You make a mixture in water of two polymers that you've selected to be just slightly different in their "hydrophobicity," or tendency to mix with water. Add in your sample of stuff to be separated, stir vigorously and wait. The polymer solutions will gradually separate into two distinct portions or "phases," the lighter one on top. And they'll bring along with them those molecules in your sample that share a similar degree of hydrophobicity.

It turns out that this works pretty well with nanotubes because of differences in their electronic structure—the semiconductor forms, for example, are more hydrophobic than the metallic forms. It's not perfect, of course, but a few sequential separations ends up with a sample where the undesired forms are essentially undetectable.

Be honest. It's not that easy. "No," agrees, Khripin, "People tried this before and it didn't work. The breakthrough was to realize that you need a very subtle difference between the two phases. The difference in hydrophobity between nanotubes is tiny, tiny, tiny." But you can engineer that with careful addition of salts and surfactants.

"This technique uses some vials and a bench-top centrifuge worth a couple hundred dollars, and it takes under a minute," observes team member Jeffrey Fagan. "The other techniques people use require an HPLC on the order of $50,000 and the yields are relatively low, or an ultracentrifuge that takes 12 to 20 hours to separate out the different metals from semiconductors, and it's tricky and cumbersome."

"The nanotube metrology project at NIST has been around for a quite a number of years," says senior team member Ming Zheng. "It has been a constant interest of ours to develop new ways to separate nanotubes, cheaper ways, that industry can use in the development of nanoelectronics and other applications. We really think we have a method here that fits all the criteria that people are looking for. It's easy, it's scalable, it's high resolution—all the good attributes put together."

* C.Y. Khripin , J.A. Fagan and M. Zheng. Spontaneous partition of carbon nanotubes in polymer-modified aqueous phases. J. Am. Chem. Soc., Article ASAP April 22, 2013 (web publication). DOI: 10.1021/ja402762e

Michael Baum | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>