Imagine using minuscule structures the size of molecules to harvest sunlight and convert it into electricity. Or employing the same structures to store hydrogen fuel so that it fits into a cars gas tank. Or replacing todays semiconductors with these structures, ushering in the next generation of small, powerful electronics.
These technologies dont exist yet, but the work of a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) is bringing them closer to reality with hybrid materials made with carbon nanotubes (CNTs).
Junhong Chen, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is pioneering better methods of making CNTs more predictable.
CNTs are invisibly thin sheets of graphite that are rolled into a cylindrical shape. Chens laboratory focuses on new uses for CNTs combined with nanoparticles, bits of matter that are nanoscale in all three dimensions. (A few nanometers are roughly 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.)
These interesting multi-component structures will open up new opportunities in several interdisciplinary fields, Chen says, including medical diagnostics, green energy technology, and sensors for everything from food flavor to invisible toxic gas.
Big and small worlds collide
CNTs are the potential superstar structures of molecular engineering because of their remarkable electronic and mechanical properties. Already they are used in making flat panel display screens and sensing devices that can detect substances in very low concentrations.
They conduct electricity like either copper or silicon, are stronger than steel, pliable like polymers (kinds of plastics) and can be made from a range of raw materials.
The challenge is to coax them to behave in predictable ways.
With the help of graduate student Ganhua Lu, Chen has devised a method for creating hybrid structures by coating CNTs with aerosol nanoparticles. His lab also has produce
|Contact: Junhong Chen|
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee