Materials fortified with carbon nanotubes are strongest when the embedded filaments run parallel to each other, but electronic and thermal conductivity are best when the nanotubes are oriented randomly. That the finding from a team of engineers at the University of Pennsylvania who have developed a production technique that permits a finer and more precise dispersion of nanotubes within a material.
The results, which could give scientists the tools to customize nano-tube-laced materials to meet their particular needs, are reported online this week and in the Dec. 15 print edition of the Journal of Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics. Less than one-ten-thousandth the width of a human hair, carbon nanotubes possess unparalleled strength, superior heat-conducting properties and a unique ability to adopt the electrical properties of either semiconductors or metals, but so far they have failed to back up this theoretical potential with real-world applications.
"A major hurdle that has prevented us from mixing nanotubes into materials to take advantage of these remarkable properties is their stubborn tendency to bundle together," said Karen I. Winey, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Penn. "Uniform dispersion of nanotubes in materials is absolutely critical to harnessing their strength, electrical conductivity and thermal stability."
Greg Lester | University of Pennsylvania
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