WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers have overcome a major obstacle in efforts to use tiny structures called carbon nanotubes to create a new class of electronics that would be faster and smaller than conventional silicon-based transistors.
Carbon nanotubes, which were discovered in the early 1990s, could make possible more powerful, compact and energy-efficient computers, as well as ultra-thin "nanowires" for electronic circuits. The nanotubes might be ideal for future electronics because they conduct electricity more efficiently than any other metal, but their practical application requires that they be manufactured to specific standards.
Now scientists in the Materials Science Division at the Honda Research Institute USA Inc., Purdue University and the University of Louisville have learned how to control the formation of carbon nanotubes so that they have either metallic or semiconducting properties.
"This problem of how to control whether you have a metal or a semiconductor is the key stumbling block in making transistors out of carbon nanotubes," said Eric Stach, an associate professor of materials engineering at Purdue. "Solid-state electronics is built around the fact that you can control the semiconducting properties of silicon."
Findings will be detailed in a research paper appearing Friday (Oct. 2) in the journal Science. The research is led by Avetik Harutyunyan, principal scientist at the Honda Research Institute USA Inc. in Columbus, Ohio.
"This is the first report that shows we can control pretty systematically whether carbon nanotubes are metallic or semiconducting," Harutyunyan said. "We have a 91 percent success rate of producing metallic nanotubes."
Silicon-based transistors control the flow of electrons by using specific combinations of metals and semiconductors. Researchers are working to learn how to precisely control the properties of carbon nanotubes so that they can be used as both th
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