Nanotubes key to microscopic mechanics

Oct 25, 2011

In the latest issue of Elsevier's Materials Today, researchers from Spain and Belgium reported on the innovative use of carbon nanotubes to create mechanical components for use in a new generation of micro-machines. While the electronics industry has excelled in miniaturizing components, with individual elements approaching the nanoscale (or a billionth of a meter), reducing the size of mechanical systems has proved much more challenging.

One of the difficulties of shrinking mechanical devices is that the conventional techniques used to produce individual components are not useful when it comes to creating intricate shapes on the microscale. One promising technique is electrical discharge machining (EDM), which uses a spark of electricity to blast away the unwanted material to create complex shapes. However, this method requires that the target material is electrically conductive, limiting the use of EDM on hard, ceramic materials.

But now, by implanting carbon nanotubes in , the ceramic of choice, Manuel Belmonte and colleagues have been able to increase the electrical conductivity of the material by 13 orders of magnitude and have used EDM to produce a microgear without compromising the production time or integrity of the apparatus.

Carbon nanotubes rose to prominence in the early 1990s when their range of remarkable properties became apparent. These include phenomenal strength and electrical properties that can be tailored to suit. Each tube is made from a rolled up sheet of in a honeycomb-like structure. Unrolled, this sheet is also known as graphene, the innovative material which was the subject of the 2010 . Implanted inside a ceramic, these nanotubes form a conductive network that greatly reduces .

The of the composite material is much higher, while the mechanical properties of the ceramic are preserved and wear resistance is significantly improved. As the corresponding author, Dr Manuel Belmonte, clarifies; this breakthrough will "allow the manufacture of intricate 3D components, widening the potential use of advanced ceramics and other insulating materials". The team hopes that such nanocomposite materials will find use in emerging applications, such as, microturbines, microreactors, and bioimplants.

Explore further: Tough foam from tiny sheets

More information: This article is "Carbon nanofillers for machining insulating ceramics" ( doi: 10.1016/S1369-7021(11)70214-0 ) by Olivier Malek, Jesús González-Julián, Jef Vleugels, Wouter Vanderauwera, Bert Lauwers, Manuel Belmonte. It appears in Materials Today, Volume 14, Issue 10, Page 496 (2011)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Taming carbon nanotubes

Feb 07, 2011

Carbon nanotubes have many attractive properties, and their structure and areas of application can be compared with those of graphene, the material for whose discovery the most recent Nobel Prize was awarded. In order to ...

Carbon nanotube composites for enzymes and cosmetics

Sep 06, 2011

Japanese researchers have developed a low cost and efficient method for producing electrically conducting composites based on electrostatic adsorption of CNTs onto resin and ceramic particles for applications ...

Electromechanics also operates at the nanoscale

May 09, 2011

What limits the behaviour of a carbon nanotube? This is a question that many scientists are trying to answer. Physicists at University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have now shown that electromechanical principles ...

Recommended for you

Tough foam from tiny sheets

10 hours ago

Tough, ultralight foam of atom-thick sheets can be made to any size and shape through a chemical process invented at Rice University.

Graphene surfaces on photonic racetracks

Jul 28, 2014

In an article published in Optics Express, scientists from The University of Manchester describe how graphene can be wrapped around a silicon wire, or waveguide, and modify the transmission of light through it.

Simulating the invisible

Jul 28, 2014

Panagiotis Grammatikopoulos in the OIST Nanoparticles by Design Unit simulates the interactions of particles that are too small to see, and too complicated to visualize. In order to study the particles' behavior, he uses ...

Building 'invisible' materials with light

Jul 28, 2014

A new method of building materials using light, developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, could one day enable technologies that are often considered the realm of science fiction, such as invisibility ...

User comments : 0