National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and university researchers report a significant step toward sorting out the nanotube "problem"--the challenge of overcoming processing obstacles so that the remarkable properties of the tiny cylindrical structures can be exploited in new polymer composite materials of exceptional strength.
Small- angle neutron scattering pattern provides an inverted representation of how carbon nanotubes flowing in a polymer melt sort themselves by length. Longer nanotubes, which scatter neutrons at lower angles, gather in purple regions, while medium-sized and short nanotubes are indicated by red and yellow, respectively. The dark blue circle in the center of the image is the beam stop, which protects the sensitive detector from the transmitted beam of unscattered neutrons.
As described in the current issue of Physical Review Letters,* their analysis reveals that, during mixing, carbon nanotubes suspended in viscous fluids can be encouraged to sort themselves by length. Achieving uniform sizes of nanotubes is one of several keys to producing affordable, high-quality polymer nanocomposites.
The team found that, under common processing conditions, shorter carbon nanotubes will flow toward the walls of mixing equipment, while the longer tubes tend to congregate in the interior.
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