ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Twisting spires, concentric rings, and gracefully bending petals are a few of the new three-dimensional shapes that University of Michigan engineers can make from carbon nanotubes using a new manufacturing process.
The process is called "capillary forming," and it takes advantage of capillary action, the phenomenon at work when liquids seem to defy gravity and travel up a drinking straw of their own accord.
The new miniature shapes, which are difficult if not impossible to build using any material, have the potential to harness the exceptional mechanical, thermal, electrical, and chemical properties of carbon nanotubes in a scalable fashion, said A. John Hart, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and in the School of Art & Design.
They could lead to probes that can interface with individual cells and tissues, novel microfluidic devices, and new materials with a custom patchwork of surface textures and properties.
A paper on the research is published in the October edition of Advanced Materials, and is featured on the cover.
"It's easy to make carbon nanotubes straight and vertical like buildings," Hart said. "It hasn't been possible to make them into more complex shapes. Assembling nanostructures into three-dimensional shapes is one of the major goals of nanotechnology. The method of capillary forming could be applied to many types of nanotubes and nanowires, and its scalability is very attractive for manufacturing."
Hart's method starts by stamping patterns on a silicon wafer. His ink in this case is the iron catalyst that facilitates the vertical growth of the carbon nanotubes in the patterned shapes. Rather than stamp a traditional, uniform grid of circles, Hart stamp hollow circles, half circles and circles with smaller ones cut from their centers. The shapes are arranged in different orientations and groupings. One such grouping is a pentagon
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University of Michigan