Harnessing the Divas of the Nanoworld

January 14, 2010 By Marcia Goodrich
Carpets of boron nitride nanotubes grown on a substrate by Yoke Khin Yap's research group

(PhysOrg.com) -- Boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) are the divas of the nanoworld. In possession of alluring properties, they are also notoriously temperamental compared to their carbon-based cousins.

On the plus side, they can withstand incredibly high heat, well over 1,100 degrees Celsius, says Yoke Khin Yap, an associate professor of physics at Michigan Technological University. “Carbon nanotubes would burn like charcoal in a barbecue at half of those temperatures,” he says. And the of BNNTs are remarkably uniform. Perfect insulators, boron nitride nanotubes could be doped with other materials to form designer semiconductors that could be used in high-powered electronics.

Unfortunately, making nanotubes from boron and nitrogen is easier said than done. “Making carbon nanotubes is simpler, like cooking,” says Yap. Boron nitride nanotubes, on the other hand, have always been fussy, requiring special instrumentation, dangerous chemistry, or temperatures of over 1,500 degrees Celsius to assemble. Even at that, the products are shot through with impurities.

“We’ve been stuck for more than 10 years because nobody could grow them well on substrates,” says Yap. “But now we can.”

As it turns out, boron nitride nanotubes just needed a little encouragement. Yap and his team have grown virtual Persian carpets of the tiny fibers on a made from simple catalysts, magnesium oxide, iron or nickel. And they have managed it using the same instrumentation for growing carbon nanotubes, at about 1,100 degrees Celsius. And, their quality is perfect,.the present work. “I hope this encourages more researchers to grow BNNTs using the new technique,” said Yap.

The boron nitride nanotubes can be made to assemble exclusively on these catalysts, so the researchers can control precisely where they grow. “You could write ‘Michigan Tech’ in nanotubes,” says Yap.

These transparent nanotube sheets have another interesting property: they shed water like a duck’s back, a quality known as the lotus effect. “Water just slides away,” he says. “Anything coated with it would not only be stain resistant, it would be protected from anything water-soluble.” This superhydrophobicity holds at all pH levels, so anything coated with it would be protected from even the strongest acids and alkalies.

The research was funded through a National Science Foundation Career Grant. A paper detailing Yap’s discoveries, “Patterned Growth of Boron Nitride Nanotubes by Catalytic Chemical Vapor Deposition,” has been published online by the journal Chemistry of Materials.

Explore further: Boron Nitride Nanotubes More Amenable Than Carbon

Related Stories

Boron Nitride Nanotubes More Amenable Than Carbon

May 17, 2004

Carbon nanotubes get a lot of press attention, but boron nitride (BN) nanotubes might have superior properties. K.H. Khoo and his colleagues form University of California performed first-principles calculations on BN nanotubes ...

High Value Semiconducting Carbon Nanotubes

July 12, 2004

A simple technique has been developed for producing high value semiconducting carbon nanotubes from samples of single and multi walled carbon nanotubes. The Oxford Invention is a technique for purifying samples of carbon ...

Recommended for you

Electrical circuit made of gel can repair itself

August 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—Scientists have fabricated a flexible electrical circuit that, when cut into two pieces, can repair itself and fully restore its original conductivity. The circuit is made of a new gel that possesses a combination ...

Scientists grow high-quality graphene from tea tree extract

August 21, 2015

(Phys.org)—Graphene has been grown from materials as diverse as plastic, cockroaches, Girl Scout cookies, and dog feces, and can theoretically be grown from any carbon source. However, scientists are still looking for a ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Parsec
not rated yet Jan 14, 2010
Now all we need are fabrics that can stand temps of 1,100 Celsius and we would be all set...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.