Video shows nanotube spins as it grows (w/ Videos)

Video shows nanotube spins as it grows
Researchers at Rice University and France's Université Lyon1/CNRS have found nanotubes spin as they grow. Credit: Kerry Wang/Rice University

( -- New video showing the atom-by-atom growth of carbon nanotubes reveals they rotate as they grow, much like the halting motion of a mechanical clock's second hand. Published online this month by researchers at France's Université Lyon1/CNRS and Houston's Rice University, the research provides the first experimental evidence of how individual carbon atoms are added to growing nanotubes.

"The key issue for realizing the potential of carbon nanotubes has always been better control of their growth," said team lead Stephen Purcell of the Université Lyon1/CNRS. "Our findings offer new insights for better measurement, modeling and control of nanotube growth."

Carbon nanotubes are long, hollow cylinders of pure carbon. They are hair-like in shape but are about 100,000 times smaller than human hair. They are also about six times stronger than steel, conduct electricity as well as copper and are almost impervious to radiation and chemical destruction. As a result, scientists are keen to use them in superstrong, "smart" materials, but they need to better understand how to produce them.

FEM video from Université Lyon1/CNRS shows the rotation of the nanotube during growth. The observation helps confirm a new rotational theory of carbon nanotube growth offered by Rice researchers in February. Video courtesy of S. Purcell, LPMCN/Université Lyon1/CNRS. Posted with permission from Nano Letters DOI: 10.1021/nl901380u. Copyright 2009 American Chemical Society.

"The images from Dr. Purcell's lab show the atom-by-atom 'self assembly' of a nanotube," said Rice co-author Boris Yakobson, professor in mechanical engineering and materials science and of chemistry. "The video offers compelling evidence of the rotational motion that accompanies nanotube growth. It brings to mind Galileo's famous quote, 'And yet, it does turn.'"

In February, Yakobson offered a new theory suggesting that nanotubes grow like tiny, woven tapestries, with new atoms attaching to twisting atomic threads. The new video appears to support the theory, indicating that atoms are added in pairs as the tube spins and grows.

Bits of metal catalyst were placed at the tip of a field emission microscope (FEM) probe to catalyze the growth of carbon nanotubes. Electrons passing through the nanotube were scattered onto a camera, giving a top-down view of the growing nanotube (inset). Video courtesy of S. Purcell, LPMCN/Université Lyon1/CNRS. Posted with permission from Nano Letters DOI: 10.1021/nl901380u. Copyright 2009 American Chemical Society.

To create the images, Purcell's team at LPMCN (Laboratoire de Physique de la Matičre Condensée et Nanostructures) used a field emission microscope (FEM). A few atoms of metal catalyst were placed on the tip of the FEM's needle-like probe, and carbon nanotubes grew atop the metal catalyst. An electric current was passed lengthwise through the probe and nanotube, and it projected a bright, top-down image of the nanotube onto a phosphor screen. The bright spot was filmed by a video camera, which revealed the nanotube's rotation during growth.

In one case, a nanotube turned approximately 180 times during its 11-minute growth. A frame-by-frame analysis of the video showed that the rotation proceeded in discrete steps -- much like the halting motion of the second hand on a mechanical clock -- with about 24 steps per rotation.

"The results support our predictions of how nanotubes grow," Yakobson said. "The video shows rotational movement during growth, as carbon atoms are added in pairs to the twisting, chiral network of that comprise the nanotube."

Provided by Rice University (news : web)

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Jul 27, 2009
Excellent work and great test design... these are the sort of fundamentals we really need to establish.

Jul 27, 2009
OMG!! I drew that picture for Dr. Purcell! Wow they actually used it! See it says "Credit: Kerry Wang/Rice University" Haha w00t!

Jul 27, 2009
This video does not show nanotube rotation, it shows that emitted electron field rotates as the nanotube grows but this is not the same thing.

Nanotube rotation is one possible explanation but another is that the actual emission profile is defined by interference of electronic waves propagating along the length of the growing nanotube, in such case as atoms are progressively added along the circumference the path traveled by electrons and the emission profile keep changing following a circular pattern.

Perhaps other possible interpretations are ruled out in the actual publication.

Jul 27, 2009
I agree with superhuman, not that I totally understand his explanation but that it is so easy to make assumptions based on apparent events. example: if a person falls from a building the outcome is the same whether they jumped or they were pushed. This also eminds me of an experiment done on the space station where a blob of molten solder spun on an arbitary axis for no apparent reason.

Jul 27, 2009
A question I would ask is: did it always spin in the same direction and if so why.

Aug 03, 2009
This effect might limit the growth of the nanotube. at some point the length/mass of the tube would create tourque that would halt the process or break the tube ?

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