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New chemical process can separate, manipulate carbon nanotubes

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - All single-walled-carbon nanotubes are not created equal. Instead, they form diverse assortments that vary markedly in features such as size and electrical properties. Although carbon nanotubes have been proposed for myriad applications - from miniature motors and chemical sensors to molecule-size electronic circuits - their actual uses have been severely limited by an inability to isolate and manipulate nanotubes having different characteristics.

Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at Rice University have discovered a way to chemically select and separate carbon nanotubes based on their electronic structure. The new process also represents a fundamental shift in the way scientists think about the chemistry of nanotubes.

"Separating nanotubes based on their electronic properties has been a long sought goal of the carbon nanotube community," said Michael Strano, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Illinois and lead author of a paper to appear in the Sept. 12 issue of the journal Science. "In addition to presenting a broad class of materials, nanotubes tend to stick together and form bundles, making it even more difficult to separate and use them."

Several years ago, Strano and co-workers at Rice developed a technique for breaking up the bundles and dispersing the nanotubes in water laced with a surfactant. In the present work, Strano and his graduate students, Monica Usrey and Paul Barone, teamed up with organic chemist James Tour at Rice and his postdoctoral researcher Christopher Dyke to apply reaction chemistry to the surfaces of nanotubes in order to select metallic tubes over the semiconductors.

To control nanotube chemistry, Strano and his colleagues add water-soluble diazonium salts to nanotubes suspended in an aqueous solution. The diazonium reagent extracts an electric charge and chemically bonds to the nanotubes under certain controlled conditions.

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Contact: James E. Kloeppel
kloeppel@uiuc.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
11-Sep-2003


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