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Purdue creates self-generating nanotubes with 'dial-up' properties

t as easily managed as the materials the Fenniri team is working with.

"By using synthetic chemistry, we have gained complete control over the formation of our nanotubes," Fenniri said. "More control in the lab should give more options to industry."

One way the new nanotubes can be customized is by using them as scaffolding for other materials. Fenniri's nanotube looks like a spiral-shaped stack of rings; each ring is made of six molecules shaped roughly like pie wedges. On the outside of the spiral, the team has learned to attach other molecules, which hang off the tubes like charms on a charm bracelet. The attached molecules then lend their properties to the outside of the nanotube.

For example, if the component molecules of nylon are attached, the nanotubes can then be turned into very long and flexible fibers that are, nonetheless, very strong.

"They could be made into an improved version of nylon," Fenniri said. "And nylon has a lot more uses than making your socks stretch. We could use these fibers to reinforce everything from boat hulls and aircraft to body armor and parachutes."

Another secret to creating custom-made tubes lies in manipulating a property called chirality, which has to do with the direction the spiral-shaped tubes twist. Nature only twists molecules in one direction -- this is why DNA molecules always twist to the right, and are described as having right-handed chirality. But Fenniri's team can make tubes that twist in either direction, creating left-handed nanotubes with abilities that their right-handed cousins often do not have.

"We can create two nanotubes that are made of the same materials, but that behave differently," Fenniri said. "Just like a flipped-over puzzle piece doesn't fit in its hole, a left-handed nanotube can react with different substances than its corresponding right-handed tube."

While experimenting with controlling their nanotubes' properties, the Fenniri t
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Contact: Chad Boutin
cboutin@purdue.edu
765-494-2081
Purdue University
2-Oct-2002


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