These materials could theoretically offer the same strength as carbon fiber at one-tenth the weight, or the same weight at ten times the strength. Researchers from North Carolina State University have recently succeeded in creating such a composite.
According to the university, scientists have spent decades trying to achieve the four goals that must be met in order to create CNT (carbon nanotube) composites – the nanotubes must be long in order to effectively carry loads; they must be aligned in rows; there must be a high ratio of CNTs to the polymer or resin used to hold them together; and, in order for the material to bear weight evenly, the nanotubes must be as straight as possible.
NC State’s Dr. Yuntian Zhu, a professor of materials science and engineering, is reportedly the first person to come up with a method of meeting all of these requirements.
The process begins by growing an array of long, skinny carbon nanotubes out of a flat substrate. Because the nanotubes aren’t rigid, they tend to flop over and lean against one another. The CNTs at one end of the array are then pulled sideways, causing all the other nanotubes to topple over in the same direction. As a result, they end up all being aligned.
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