Nanotubes used as chemical reactors

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — A new method of making molecules could pave the way for a new generation of faster, smaller, and more powerful computers and data storage devices.

Researchers know that physical and chemical properties of molecules inserted into carbon nanotubes are different to the properties of free molecules, presenting a powerful mechanism for harnessing their functional properties, such as magnetic or optical, and for controlling their chemical reactivity.


Carbon nanotubes are nanostructures with a typical diameter of 1-2 nanometers—80,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.

For the new study, published in the journal Nature Materials, scientists demonstrated that carbon nanotubes can be used as nanoscale chemical reactors. Chemical reactions involving carbon and sulphur atoms held within a nanotube lead to the formation of atomically thin strips of carbon, known as graphene nanoribbon, decorated with sulphur atoms around the edge.

“Graphene nanoribbons possess a wealth of interesting physical properties making them more suitable for applications in electronic and spintronic devices than the parent material graphene,” says Andrei Khlobystov of the University of Nottingham.

Nanoribbons are difficult to make but the Nottingham team’s strategy of confining chemical reactions at the nanoscale sparks spontaneous formation of the remarkable structures.

“Nanoribbons—far from being simple flat and linear structures—possess an unprecedented helical twist that changes over time, giving scientists a way of controlling physical properties of the nanoribbon, such as electrical conductivity,” Khlobystov says.

Devices based on nanoribbons could potentially be used as nanoswitches, nanoactuators and nanotransistors integrated in computers or data storage devices.

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