small plans: nanotechnology for the building industry

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Nanotubes as Minuscule Metalworking Tools

Bombarding a carbon nanotube with electrons causes it to collapse with such incredible force that it can squeeze out even the hardest of materials, much like a tube of toothpaste. Now, research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) suggests that carbon nanotubes can act as minuscule metalworking tools, offering the ability to process materials as in a nanoscale jig or extruder, according to an RPI press release.

Engineers use a variety of tools to manipulate and process metals. For example, handy “jigs” control the motion of tools, and extruders push or draw materials through molds to create long objects of a fixed diameter. The newly reported findings suggest that nanotubes could perform similar functions at the scale of atoms and molecules, the researchers say.

“Researchers will need a wide range of tools to manipulate structures at the nanoscale, and this could be one of them,” says Pulickel Ajayan, the Henry Burlage Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer.

The researchers filled carbon nanotubes with nanowires made from two extremely hard materials: iron and iron carbide. When irradiated with an electron beam, the collapsing nanotubes squeezed the materials through the hollow core along the tube axis, as in an extrusion process (pictured).

These jigs could be perfect nanoscale laboratories to study the effects of deformation in nanostructures by observing them directly in an electron microscope, the researchers suggest. (photo RPI)

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