David Kirkpatrick

July 15, 2010

Acid bath may lead to armchair quantum wires

More nanotech news.

The release:

Nanotubes pass acid test

Rice researchers’ method untangles long tubes, clears hurdle toward armchair quantum wire

HOUSTON – (July 14, 2010) – Rice University scientists have found the “ultimate” solvent for all kinds of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), a breakthrough that brings the creation of a highly conductive quantum nanowire ever closer.

Nanotubes have the frustrating habit of bundling, making them less useful than when they’re separated in a solution. Rice scientists led by Matteo Pasquali, a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering and in chemistry, have been trying to untangle them for years as they look for scalable methods to make exceptionally strong, ultralight, highly conductive materials that could revolutionize power distribution, such as the armchair quantum wire.

The armchair quantum wire — a macroscopic cable of well-aligned metallic nanotubes — was envisioned by the late Richard Smalley, a Rice chemist who shared the Nobel Prize for his part in discovering the the family of molecules that includes the carbon nanotube. Rice is celebrating the 25th anniversary of that discovery this year.

Pasquali, primary author Nicholas Parra-Vasquez and their colleagues reported this month in the online journal ACS Nano that chlorosulfonic acid can dissolve half-millimeter-long nanotubes in solution, a critical step in spinning fibers from ultralong nanotubes.

Current methods to dissolve carbon nanotubes, which include surrounding the tubes with soap-like surfactants, doping them with alkali metals or attaching small chemical groups to the sidewalls, disperse nanotubes at relatively low concentrations. These techniques are not ideal for fiber spinning because they damage the properties of the nanotubes, either by attaching small molecules to their surfaces or by shortening them.

A few years ago, the Rice researchers discovered that chlorosulfonic acid, a “superacid,” adds positive charges to the surface of the nanotubes without damaging them. This causes the nanotubes to spontaneously separate from each other in their natural bundled form.

This method is ideal for making nanotube solutions for fiber spinning because it produces fluid dopes that closely resemble those used in industrial spinning of high-performance fibers. Until recently, the researchers thought this dissolution method would be effective only for short single-walled nanotubes.

In the new paper, the Rice team reported that the acid dissolution method also works with any type of carbon nanotube, irrespective of length and type, as long as the nanotubes are relatively free of defects.

Parra-Vasquez described the process as “very easy.”

“Just adding the nanotubes to chlorosulfonic acid results in dissolution, without even mixing,” he said.

While earlier research had focused on single-walled carbon nanotubes, the team discovered chlorosulfonic acid is also adept at dissolving multiwalled nanotubes (MWNTs). “There are many processes that make multiwalled nanotubes at a cheaper cost, and there’s a lot of research with them,” said Parra-Vasquez, who earned his Rice doctorate last year. “We hope this will open up new areas of research.”

They also observed for the first time that long SWNTs dispersed by superacid form liquid crystals. “We already knew that with shorter nanotubes, the liquid-crystalline phase is very different from traditional liquid crystals, so liquid crystals formed from ultralong nanotubes should be interesting to study,” he said.

Parra-Vasquez, now a postdoctoral researcher at Centre de Physique Moleculaire Optique et Hertzienne, Universite’ de Bordeaux, Talence, France, came to Rice in 2002 for graduate studies with Pasquali and Smalley.

Study co-author Micah Green, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Texas Tech and a former postdoctoral fellow in Pasquali’s research group, said working with long nanotubes is key to attaining exceptional properties in fibers because both the mechanical and electrical properties depend on the length of the constituent nanotubes. Pasquali said that using long nanotubes in the fibers should improve their properties on the order of one to two magnitudes, and that similar enhanced properties are also expected in thin films of carbon nanotubes being investigated for flexible electronics applications.

An immediate goal for researchers, Parra-Vasquez said, will be to find “large quantities of ultralong single-walled nanotubes with low defects — and then making that fiber we have been dreaming of making since I arrived at Rice, a dream that Rick Smalley had and that we have all shared since.”


Co-authors of the paper are graduate students Natnael Behabtu, Colin Young, Anubha Goyal and Cary Pint; Pulickel Ajayan, the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and of chemistry, and Robert Hauge, a distinguished faculty fellow in chemistry, all at Rice; and Judith Schmidt, Ellina Kesselman, Yachin Cohen and Yeshayahu Talmon of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research, the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the Evans-Attwell Welch Postdoctoral Fellowship funded the research.

Read the abstract at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nn100864v

For more about Rice’s 25th anniversary Year of Nano celebrations, visit: http://buckyball.smalley.rice.edu/year_of_nano/

November 22, 2009

The search engine as teacher

Who’d a thunk it?!?

The release:

Search engines are source of learning

Search engine use is not just part of our daily routines; it is also becoming part of our learning process, according to Penn State researchers.

The researchers sought to discover the cognitive processes underlying searching. They examined the search habits of 72 participants while conducting a total of 426 searching tasks. They found that search engines are primarily used for fact checking users’ own internal knowledge, meaning that they are part of the learning process rather than simply a source for information. They also found that people’s learning styles can affect how they use search engines.

“Our results suggest the view of Web searchers having simple information needs may be incorrect,” said Jim Jansen, associate professor of information sciences and technology. “Instead, we discovered that users applied simple searching expressions to support their higher-level information needs.”

Jansen said the results of this study provide useful information about how search engine use has evolved over the past decade and clues about how to design better search engines to address users’ learning needs in the future. He and Brian Smith, associate professor information sciences and technology and Danielle Booth, former Penn State student, published their findings in the November issue of Information Processing and Management.

“If we can incorporate cognitive, affective and situational aspects of a person, there is the potential to really move search performance forward,” Jansen said. “At its core, we are getting to the motivational elements of search.”


National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded this research.

June 12, 2009

Assembly with graphene

Interesting research on the properties of one of the more exciting nanotech materials out there.

The release:

Penn materials scientist finds plumber’s wonderland on graphene

IMAGE: This is an electron micrograph showing the formation of interconnected carbon nanostructures on a graphene substrate, which may be harnessed to make future electronic devices.

Click here for more information. 

PHILADELPHIA –- Engineers from the University of Pennsylvania, Sandia National Laboratories and Rice University have demonstrated the formation of interconnected carbon nanostructures on graphene substrate in a simple assembly process that involves heating few-layer graphene sheets to sublimation using electric current that may eventually lead to a new paradigm for building integrated carbon-based devices.

Curvy nanostructures such as carbon nanotubes and fullerenes have extraordinary properties but are extremely challenging to pick up, handle and assemble into devices after synthesis. Penn materials scientist Ju Li and Sandia scientist Jianyu Huang have come up with a novel idea to construct curvy nanostructures directly integrated on graphene, taking advantage of the fact that graphene, an atomically thin two-dimensional sheet, bends easily after open edges have been cut on it, which can then fuse with other open edges permanently, like a plumber connecting metal fittings.

The “knife” and “welding torch” used in the experiments, which were performed inside an electron microscope, was electrical current from a Nanofactory scanning probe, generating up to 2000°C of heat. Upon applying the electrical current to few-layer graphene, they observed the in situ creation of many interconnected, curved carbon nanostructures, such as “fractional nanotube”-like graphene bi-layer edges, or BLEs; BLE rings on graphene equivalent to “anti quantum-dots”; and nanotube-BLE assembly connecting multiple layers of graphene.

Remarkably, researchers observed that more than 99 percent of the graphene edges formed during sublimation were curved BLEs rather than flat monolayer edges, indicating that BLEs are the stable edges in graphene, in agreement with predictions based on symmetry considerations and energetic calculations. Theory also predicts these BLEs, or “fractional nanotubes,” possess novel properties of their own and may find applications in devices.

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Short movies of the fabrication of these nanostructures can be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/MaterialsTheory.

Li and Huang observed the creation of these interconnected carbon nanostructures using the heat of electric current and a high-resolution transmission electron microscope. The current, once passed through the graphene layers, improved the crystalline quality and surface cleanness of the graphene as well, both important for device fabrication.

The sublimation of few-layer graphene, such as a 10-layer stack, is advantageous over the sublimation of monolayers. In few-layer graphene, layers spontaneously fuse together forming nanostructures on top of one or two electrically conductive, extended, graphene sheets.

During heating, both the flat graphene sheets and the self-wrapping nanostructures that form, like bilayer edges and nanotubes, have unique electronic properties important for device applications. The biggest obstacle for engineers has been wrestling control of the structure and assembly of these nanostructures to best exploit the properties of carbon. The discoveries of self-assembled novel carbon nanostructures may circumvent the hurdle and lead to new approach of graphene-based electronic devices.

Researchers induced the sublimation of multilayer graphene by Joule-heating, making it thermodynamically favorable for the carbon atoms at the edge of the material to escape into the gas phase, leaving freshly exposed edges on the solid graphene. The remaining graphene edges curl and often welded together to form BLEs. Researchers attribute this behavior to nature’s driving force to reduce capillary energy, dangling bonds on the open edges of monolayer graphene, at the cost of increased bending energy.

“This study demonstrates it is possible to make and integrate curved nanostructures directly on flat graphene, which is extended and electrically conducting,” said Li, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Furthermore, it demonstrates that multiple graphene sheets can be intentionally interconnected. And the quality of the plumbing is exceptionally high, better than anything people have used for electrical contacts with carbon nanotubes so far. We are currently investigating the fundamental properties of graphene bi-layer edges, BLE rings and nanotube-BLE junctions.”




The study was performed by Li and Liang Qi of Penn, Jian Yu Huang and Ping Lu of the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia and Feng Ding and Boris I. Yakobson of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Rice.

It was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Honda Research Institute, the Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research.

January 16, 2009

The latest in cloaking tech

Haven’t blogged on this subject in a while. It’s always fun to cover, though.

The release:

Next generation cloaking device demonstrated

IMAGE: Pictured is the new cloak with bump, left, and the prototype, right.

Click here for more information. 

DURHAM, N.C. – A device that can bestow invisibility to an object by “cloaking” it from visual light is closer to reality. After being the first to demonstrate the feasibility of such a device by constructing a prototype in 2006, a team of Duke University engineers has produced a new type of cloaking device, which is significantly more sophisticated at cloaking in a broad range of frequencies.

The latest advance was made possible by the development of a new series of complex mathematical commands, known as algorithms, to guide the design and fabrication of exotic composite materials known as metamaterials. These materials can be engineered to have properties not easily found in natural materials, and can be used to form a variety of “cloaking” structures. These structures can guide electromagnetic waves around an object, only to have them emerge on the other side as if they had passed through an empty volume of space.

IMAGE: This is David R. Smith with the new cloak device.

Click here for more information. 

The results of the latest Duke experiments were published Jan. 16 in the journal Science. First authors of the paper were Duke’s Ruopeng Liu, who developed the algorithm, and Chunlin Li. David R. Smith, William Bevan Professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke, is the senior member of the research team.

Once the algorithm was developed, the latest cloaking device was completed from conception to fabrication in nine days, compared to the four months required to create the original, and more rudimentary, device. This powerful new algorithm will make it possible to custom-design unique metamaterials with specific cloaking characteristics, the researchers said.

“The difference between the original device and the latest model is like night and day,” Smith said. “The new device can cloak a much wider spectrum of waves — nearly limitless — and will scale far more easily to infrared and visible light. The approach we used should help us expand and improve our abilities to cloak different types of waves.”

Cloaking devices bend electromagnetic waves, such as light, in such a way that it appears as if the cloaked object is not there. In the latest laboratory experiments, a beam of microwaves aimed through the cloaking device at a “bump” on a flat mirror surface bounced off the surface at the same angle as if the bump were not present. Additionally, the device prevented the formation of scattered beams that would normally be expected from such a perturbation.

The underlying cloaking phenomenon is similar to the mirages seen ahead at a distance on a road on a hot day.

“You see what looks like water hovering over the road, but it is in reality a reflection from the sky,” Smith explained. “In that example, the mirage you see is cloaking the road below. In effect, we are creating an engineered mirage with this latest cloak design.”

Smith believes that cloaks should find numerous applications as the technology is perfected. By eliminating the effects of obstructions, cloaking devices could improve wireless communications, or acoustic cloaks could serve as protective shields, preventing the penetration of vibrations, sound or seismic waves.

“The ability of the cloak to hide the bump is compelling, and offers a path towards the realization of forms of cloaking abilities approaching the optical,” Liu said. “Though the designs of such metamaterials are extremely complex, especially when traditional approaches are used, we believe that we now have a way to rapidly and efficiently produce such materials.”

With appropriately fine-tuned metamaterials, electromagnetic radiation at frequencies ranging from visible light to radio could be redirected at will for virtually any application, Smith said. This approach could also lead to the development of metamaterials that focus light to provide more powerful lenses.

The newest cloak, which measures 20 inches by 4 inches and less than an inch high, is actually made up of more than 10,000 individual pieces arranged in parallel rows. Of those pieces, more than 6,000 are unique. Each piece is made of the same fiberglass material used in circuit boards and etched with copper.

The algorithm determined the shape and placement of each piece. Without the algorithm, properly designing and aligning the pieces would have been extremely difficult, Smith said.




The research was supported by Raytheon Missile Systems, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, InnovateHan Technology, the National Science Foundation of China, the National Basic Research Program of China, and National Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province, China.

Others members of the research team were Duke’s Jack Mock, as well as Jessie Y. Chin and Tie Jun Cui from Southeast University, Nanjing, China.

November 27, 2008

Photons driving machines

Nanotech news.

The release:

‘The photon force is with us’: Harnessing light to drive nanomachines

IMAGE: Photonic circuit in which optical force is harnessed to drive nanomechanics (inset)

Click here for more information. 

New Haven, Conn. — Science fiction writers have long envisioned sailing a spacecraft by the optical force of the sun’s light. But, the forces of sunlight are too weak to fill even the oversized sails that have been tried. Now a team led by researchers at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science has shown that the force of light indeed can be harnessed to drive machines — when the process is scaled to nano-proportions.

Their work opens the door to a new class of semiconductor devices that are operated by the force of light. They envision a future where this process powers quantum information processing and sensing devices, as well as telecommunications that run at ultra-high speed and consume little power.

The research, appearing in the November 27 issue of Nature, demonstrates a marriage of two emerging fields of research — nanophotonics and nanomechanics. – which makes possible the extreme miniaturization of optics and mechanics on a silicon chip.

The energy of light has been harnessed and used in many ways. The “force” of light is different — it is a push or a pull action that causes something to move.

“While the force of light is far too weak for us to feel in everyday life, we have found that it can be harnessed and used at the nanoscale,” said team leader Hong Tang, assistant professor at Yale. “Our work demonstrates the advantage of using nano-objects as “targets” for the force of light — using devices that are a billion-billion times smaller than a space sail, and that match the size of today’s typical transistors.”

Until now light has only been used to maneuver single tiny objects with a focused laser beam — a technique called “optical tweezers.” Postdoctoral scientist and lead author, Mo Li noted, “Instead of moving particles with light, now we integrate everything on a chip and move a semiconductor device.”

“When researchers talk about optical forces, they are generally referring to the radiation pressure light applies in the direction of the flow of light,” said Tang. “The new force we have investigated actually kicks out to the side of that light flow.”

While this new optical force was predicted by several theories, the proof required state-of-the-art nanophotonics to confine light with ultra-high intensity within nanoscale photonic wires. The researchers showed that when the concentrated light was guided through a nanoscale mechanical device, significant light force could be generated — enough, in fact, to operate nanoscale machinery on a silicon chip.

The light force was routed in much the same way electronic wires are laid out on today’s large scale integrated circuits. Because light intensity is much higher when it is guided at the nanoscale, they were able to exploit the force. “We calculate that the illumination we harness is a million times stronger than direct sunlight,” adds Wolfram Pernice, a Humboldt postdoctoral fellow with Tang.

“We create hundreds of devices on a single chip, and all of them work,” says Tang, who attributes this success to a great optical I/O device design provided by their collaborators at the University of Washington.

It took more than 60 years to progress from the first transistors to the speed and power of today’s computers. Creating devices that run solely on light rather than electronics will now begin a similar process of development, according to the authors.

“While this development has brought us a new device concept and a giant step forward in speed, the next developments will be in improving the mechanical aspects of the system. But,” says Tang, “the photon force is with us.”




Tang’s team at Yale also included graduate student Chi Xiong. Collaborators at University of Washington were Thomas Baehr-Jones and Michael Hochberg. Funding in support of the project came from the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Alexander von Humboldt post-doctoral fellowship program.

Citation: Nature (November 27, 2008)

Hong Tang

Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science