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Rice University lab makes short nanotube samples by hand to dramatically cut production time
HOUSTON – (Jan. 11, 2018) – The terms “handmade” and “high tech” are not commonly found in the same sentence, but they both apply to a Rice University method to quickly produce fibers from carbon nanotubes.
The method developed by the Rice lab of chemist Matteo Pasquali allows researchers to make short lengths of strong, conductive fibers from small samples of bulk nanotubes in about an hour.
The work complements Pasquali’s pioneering 2013 method to spin full spools of thread-like nanotube fibers for aerospace, automotive, medical and smart-clothing applications. The fibers look like cotton thread but perform like metal wires and carbon fibers.
Rice University graduate student Robby Headrick peels a strip of aligned carbon nanotubes from a slide. The lab’s method for making short nanotubes takes weeks off the time needed to make samples for testing. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
It can take grams of material and weeks of effort to optimize the process of spinning continuous fibers, but the new method cuts that down to size, even if it does require a bit of hands-on processing.
Pasquali and lead author and graduate student Robby Headrick reported in Advanced Materials that aligning and twisting the hair-like fibers is fairly simple.
First, Headrick makes films. After dissolving a small amount of nanotubes in acid, he places the solution between two glass slides. Moving them quickly past each other applies shear force that prompts the billions of nanotubes within the solution to line up. Once the resulting films are deposited onto the glass, he peels off sections and rolls them up into fibers.