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NIST's stretching exercises shed new light on nanotubes

Stretching a carbon nanotube composite like taffy, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) have made some of the first measurements* of how single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) both scatter and absorb polarized light, a key optical and electronic property.

SWNTs have excited materials scientists with the promise of novel materials that have exceptional mechanical, electronic, and optical properties. One fundamental issue is how light interacts with SWNTs. Is there, for example, a way to use appropriately tailored light to exert a force on SWNTs so that they can be trapped or aligned? Or can they be designed to be nanoscale tags for medical diagnostics? Semiconducting SWNTs can fluoresce in the near infrared region, an ideal characteristic for medical applications because body fluids and tissues are nearly transparent in that range.

Recent research on the optics of SWNTs has focused on the behavior of excitons the pairing of a negatively charged electron with the positively charged hole that it leaves behind when it gets excited by a photon into a higher energy state. An important optical characteristic is how excitons in SWNTs impact the way the nanotubes absorb and scatter light.For example, how easy is it for the incident light to deform an exciton to create positive and negative poles? Theory says it should be significantly harder to do in a nearly one-dimensional nanotube than in a bulk semiconductor, where nearby electrons and holes reduce the amount of energy required.

Measuring that is difficult because the effect depends on the orientation of the nanotubes, and theyre hard to line up neatly. The NIST/RIT team solved the problem elegantly by wrapping SWNTs with DNA to keep them from clumping together, and dispersing them in a polymer. When they heated the polymer and stretched it in one direction, the nanotubes aligned like sugar crystals linin
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Contact: Michael Baum
michael.baum@nist.gov
301-975-2763
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
12-Apr-2007


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