Scientists use carbon for research

Thanks to the work of a team of USC students led by Professor Chongwu Zhou of the Viterbi School of Engineering, it’s  possible to create a system that consistently produces carbon nanotubes in a predictable and specific manner.

More than three years of research in engineering labs, carbon nanotubes now have the potential to be far smaller, faster and consume less power than silicon transistors. Until recently, researchers were unable to create carbon nanotubes with specific, predictable properties making the material less applicable to products such as cell phones, computers and other technologies.

“Our method can revolutionize the scientific field and significantly push forward the real applications of nanotubes in many fields,” Zhou told USC News.

Before USC’s discovery of this process, referred to as “nanotube cloning,” a key reason carbon nanotubes were not used in computers and cell phones was because they are difficult to manufacture to the correct size, chirality, a property of asymmetry and type. This lack of control resulted in scientists’ inability to control nanotubes’ electrical and mechanical properties.

“Controlling the chirality of carbon nanotubes has been a dream for many researchers. Now the dream has come true,” Zhou said.

Zhou and his team of USC students planted pieces of carbon nanotubes that had been separated and pre-selected based on chirality, using a special nanotube separation technique developed by co-author Ming Zheng and his co-workers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Using these pieces as seeds, the team used chemical vapor deposition to enlarge the seeds to get longer nanotubes. The team has already patented their revolutionary innovation and their research was published in the journal Nature. Communications.

“Carbon nanotubes, I know, are more convenient than using silicon just because they make up stronger materials in building equipment. And they can minimize space because they are smaller,” Maariyah Patel, a freshman majoring neuroscience, said.

Soon, instead of having to use rare and expensive earth elements such as gallium, indium and arsenic for cell phones, the common and cheap element carbon can be utilized in the mass production of frequently used technology, especially cell phones.

“I think it’s a find that will prove itself to be hugely economical in a number of sectors, even outside of medicine,” said Deepika Bodapati, a freshman majoring in computer Biomedical Engineering (Mechanical Engineering). “If carbon nanotubes can be successfully used as a semiconductors we have a huge opportunity for positive growth in the future, especially in the tech market.”


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