Buckled carbon nanotubes under compression. Credit: Cao/RPI
Carbon nanotubes have enticed researchers since their discovery in 1991, offering an impressive combination of high strength and low weight. Now a new study suggests that they also act like super-compressible springs, opening the door to foam-like materials for just about any application where strength and flexibility are needed, from disposable coffee cups to the exterior of the space shuttle.
The research, which is reported in the Nov. 25 issue of the journal Science, shows that films of aligned multiwalled carbon nanotubes can act like a layer of mattress springs, flexing and rebounding in response to a force. But unlike a mattress, which can sag and lose its springiness, these nanotube foams maintain their resilience even after thousands of compression cycles.
In foams that exist today, strength and flexibility are opposing properties: as one goes up, the other must go down. With carbon nanotubes, no such tradeoff exists.
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