Microscopic tubular structures which engineers “grow” thru a process performed in a high-temperature incinerator are called carbon nanotubes (CNTs). The energies that create the CNT structures known as “forests” are often random and are mostly left to chance.
A researcher from the University of Missouri has developed a system to predict the outcome of how these complicated structures are shaped.
By understanding the mechanics of how CNT arrangements are created, engineers and designers can better integrate the highly malleable material into devices and products like aerospace wiring, baseball bats, computer logic components, combat body armor, and micro sensors utilized in bio-medical products.
CNTs form “forests” when created in large quantities and are tinier than the width of a human hair.Held together by a nanoscale adhesive force called the van der Waals force, these forests are classified based on their firmness or how they are aligned. For instance, if CNTs are well aligned and dense, the material manages to be more rigid and can be used for mechanical and electrical applications. If CNTs are jumbled, they tend to have wholly different sets of properties and be more soft.
Matt Maschmann, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering at MU said, “Scientists are still learning how carbon nanotube arrays form. Mechanical forces combine them into vertically oriented assemblies known as forests or arrays. The complex structures they form help dictate the properties the CNT forests possess. We’re working to identify the mechanisms behind how those forests form, how to control their formation and thus dictate future uses for CNTs.”
Currently, most reproductions that scrutinize CNT forests analyze what occurs if they are compressed or test their conductivity or thermal properties after they have formed.
But, these models do not consider the creation process of that particular forest and struggles with the capture of realistic CNT forest assembly.
Experiments conducted at Maschmann’s laboratory will aid scientists in understanding the process to ultimately aid in its control, which allows engineers to create nanotube forests with desired mechanical, electrical and thermal properties.
Maschmann uses models to plot how nanotubes grow into precise types of forests before trying to test their ensuing properties.