Plasma toughens nanotubes: Computer simulation

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  • Published: Aug 15, 2017
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Chemometrics & Informatics
thumbnail image: Plasma toughens nanotubes: Computer simulation

Tensile strength

Credit: Elle Starkman / PPPL Communications Dept.  PPPL physicist Igor Kaganovich

A computer simulation by US scientists reveals how a high-energy plasma can be used to toughen up carbon nanotubes.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) working with colleagues at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA, have demonstrated that exposure to a plasma, a fully ionized gas, might be useful in toughening up the already strong materials known as carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes, as the name would suggest, are thin hollow fibres of carbon the discovery of which emerged soon after the fullerenes (buckminsterfullerene) and led to their being nicknamed buckytubes. They have been used widely in the last two decades in everything from electrodes and electronics to dental implants and many other experimental technologies. They have several advantages in terms of their chemical and physical properties not least that they have a tensile strength some one hundred times greater than the equivalent length of steel wire.

Widespread nanotubes

Manufacturing reliable carbon nanotubes will be the next step to their widespread use in the above applications and more. Writing in the journal Carbon the team presents details of this latest discovery from the PPPL’s Laboratory for Plasma Nanosynthesis. Lead is Philip Efthimion, principal investigator is Yevgeny Raitses, co-principal investigators are Igor Kaganovich, deputy director of the Theory Department at PPPL, and Brentley Stratton, head of the diagnostics division at PPPL.

The researchers performed computer simulations at Stony Brook to show that a plasma can push a negative charge on to a carbon nanotube. The simulation then shows that such a negatively charged nanotube will bond to carbon atoms from its surroundings longer and more strongly. These surface-bound carbon atoms have more chance of migrating to the metallic cluster catalyst that is stimulating growth of the nanotube in the first place.

Significant atoms

"In our research, we found a significant increase in the time the carbon atoms spent on the tubes,” explains team member Predrag Krstic. "As a consequence, there is a significant increase in the migration rate of the carbon atoms towards the metal catalyst."

Such investigations are possible today thanks to the emergence of high-powered computers that can cope with the vast amount of data necessary to simulate a system with many atoms, something that was not possible just a few years ago. The next step will be to develop an even more detailed model of carbon nanotube behaviour as well as to develop a model of another class of nanotube, the boron-nitride nanotubes and their response to exposure to a real plasma environment.

Related Links

Carbon 2017, online: "Migration of a carbon adatom on a charged single-walled carbon nanotube"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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