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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