According to Basaran, this essential difference between metals and carbon nanotubes lies in the way they conduct electricity.
"Even though carbon nanotubes are conductive, they do not have metallic bonds," he said. "As a result, they do not conduct electricity the way that traditional metals do."
In conventional metals, he explained, conduction causes a scattering of electrons within the lattice of the material so that, when electrons move during conduction, they bump into atoms. This creates friction and generates heat, the same way a household iron works.
"On the other hand, in carbon nanotubes, electric conduction happens in a very different, one-dimensional 'ballistic' way," he said. "The electrons are fired straight through the material, so that the electrons have very little interference with the atoms."
He drew an analogy, using the difference between a conventional railroad train and a magnetically levitated train.
"In the conventional train, you have friction between the wheels and the track," said Basaran. "Through the generation of heat, that friction causes a loss of energy. But with a magnetically levitated train, the wheels and track are not in direct contact. Without that friction, they can travel much faster."
The minimal amount of friction gives carbon nanotubes a tremendous advantage over conventional metals, said Basaran. The unique properties of carbon nanotubes will allow engineers to realize a host of smaller, faster and more powerful new devices that right now cannot exist because of the limitations of conventional metals.
"When an electric car finally is manufactured, its batteries probably will be based on carbon nanotubes," said Basaran. "You can't use traditional metals in the engines because they run so hot."
Much of Basaran's $1 million-plus fundin
|Contact: Ellen Goldbaum|
University at Buffalo