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South Korean scientists pioneer a method for carbon nanotube alignment that may make mass production feasible.

We've seen them before -- the popular carbon nanotube (CNT) is plowing its way through the scientific community as everything from a possible delivery device for cancer and other diseases treatments to keeping the dream of FED televisions alive. They can also be quite useful as active elements in electronics of all sorts. Unfortunately they are wiley little molecules and very difficult to align easily for uses which require mass production. Kahp Suh of Seoul National University in South Korea and his team of scientists may just change that.

Suh's team's method is ingeniously simple. By passing an aqueous solution containing CNTs over a special material containing microscopic channels, they are able to create a highly oriented and dense array of nanotubes. The difficult part, Suh explains, was in finding just the right material to craft the channels from. "The stiffness of the polymer has to be just right. It has to be rigid enough to keep the nanochannels from collapsing but flexible enough to bond well with the substrate over a large area."

The material the group found to be the best match for their approach to creating the nanochannel layer is known as polyethylene glycol diacrylate. The polymer is both hydrophilic, which helps the nanotube solution to enter and flow within the channels more easily, and negatively charged which helps secure it to the channel bed's substrate.

Though CNTs are gaining wide renown in many areas of science, we seem to hear little of what they could possibly do in micro scale electronics and devices as parts of the structure. By using Suh's technique for creating nanotube arrays, engineers and manufacturers may be able to step up production of CNT-centric electronics, enabling a whole new plethora of portable and stationary electronics utilizing the unique properties of CNTs.


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By Etsp on 1/25/2008 12:03:21 PM , Rating: 2
This can be used for a number of different purposes, and should prove extremely useful. However I'm sure that there are other uses for nanotubes that don't involve them being aligned the same direction.
For example, maybe some form of criss-cross pattern could have unique effects and benefits, and this method doesn't sound like it would be too helpful in those sorts of applications. Still an excellent advancement though.




By praeses on 1/25/2008 12:43:29 PM , Rating: 2
Do two layers offset on a 45degree angle not create a criss-cross pattern? I think the main problem is they are having problems with them being "chaotic" so they cannot create a pattern. Once they are alligned its much easier to create any pattern either midway in the manufacturing phase or in the final product.

It sounds like there's still many "ifs" before its considered viable for mass production, but as you said, still an excellent advancement.


By MatthiasF on 1/25/2008 1:45:14 PM , Rating: 2
You guys realize that all their doing is adding the nanotubes to water, a water-solutable emulsifier and putting a current through it?

This is the same method used in creating wool and I even did it one time to untangle my bath mat (worked like a charm in under a minute).

Not exactly ingenious.


By TimberJon on 1/25/2008 2:40:12 PM , Rating: 2
I agree, not too ingenious.

Often times breakthroughs in production process are made by really sitting down and pondering if processes used in other types of products, often unrelated fields. We suck pretty bad when alot of our retrospect is "DUH!" or our breakthroughs are the result of an "oops".


By TimberJon on 1/25/2008 2:42:02 PM , Rating: 2
..often unrelated fields, will work.*


By Diesel Donkey on 1/25/2008 4:37:14 PM , Rating: 2
I would think that finding the material with the right strength vs flexing properties and channels of the correct widths on the order of tens of nanometers might be kind of hard to come by. Coming up with the basic idea behind the process may be simple, but actually making it work is, I'm sure, orders of magnitude more difficult.


By MatthiasF on 1/25/2008 5:20:49 PM , Rating: 3
Right, so it just happens that the exact material found to have these qualifications is PEG, one of the most used emulsifying agents on the planet (makeup, synthetic motor oil, paint balls, hand lotion, even food).

Doubtful. It's more likely that the scientist was talking up the discovery by explaining it in grandious language to make it seem more fantastic.

I wouldn't be surprised if others have already done the same thing, but they just don't have a well tuned nationalist PR system like South Korea hyping it.


By winterspan on 1/26/2008 4:16:57 AM , Rating: 2
yea, I'm sure you could have thought of the technique in your sleep. And what exactly have you accomplished in CNT research?


By ianrt on 1/28/2008 6:27:53 PM , Rating: 2
"This is the same method used in creating wool "

I don't quite understand how sheep generate the electric current


By Diesel Donkey on 1/25/2008 4:33:15 PM , Rating: 2
The criss-cross pattern might not be so great in terms of strength because nanotubes are really only strong (albeit very strong) longitudinally. In terms of electrical conductivity, along the length of the nanotube is the only way to go.


"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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