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Materials

Making Nanotubes In The Microwave

by Bethany Halford
August 15, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 33

With the help of a microwave oven, scientists are now able to whip up carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in a matter of seconds. A group of researchers, led by Xinyu Zhang of Auburn University, have developed what they dub the “Poptube” approach to making multiwalled CNTs (Chem. Commun., DOI: 10.1039/c1cc13359d). Most methods for making CNTs, such as arc discharge, laser ablation, and chemical vapor deposition, require vacuum conditions, inert gases, or high temperatures. The Poptube approach simply starts with a precursor, such as ferrocene, which is mixed in the solid state with a conductive material, such as a conducting polymer. Upon microwave irradiation, the conducting materials spark, arc, and reach temperatures around 1,100 °C. Those conditions decompose ferrocene into an iron catalyst and a carbon source, which ultimately create the CNTs. The whole process takes 15 to 30 seconds and runs in air starting at room temperature and does not require feedstock gases. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the fastest CNT growth in terms of process duration, and probably the only approach that can be done under ambient conditions,” the researchers note.

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