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Fullerene Nanotubes: C1,000,000 and Beyond

Some unusual new molecules—long, hollow fibers with tantalizing electronic and mechanical properties—have joined diamonds and graphite in the carbon family

Boris Yakobson, Richard Smalley

Figure 3. Single-walled nanotubesClick to Enlarge Image

For the past few years materials scientists have been eagerly exploring the properties of fullerenes—geometric structures built of carbon atoms. Recently a new fullerene has joined the buckyball, the striking cage built of 60 atoms. Scientists have found that the buckyball structure can be extended to form long, slender tubes—carbon nanotubes—that are single molecules comprised of rolled graphene sheets capped at each end. Computer simulations and laboratory experiments show that these tubes have extraordinary resilience and strength and various unusual properties; for instance, they can abruptly and reversibly snap from one shape to another under load, and they can be formed into very strong ropes. They also exhibit electrical conductivity in a quantized fashion that has lead to experiments with tiny nanowires and nanoscale transistors. A number of practical applications are now being explored, although manufacture of such incredibly small molecular wires poses enormous challenges.


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