With support from the Chemical Measurement and Imaging Program in the Division of Chemistry, Professor R. Bruce Weisman and his group at Rice University are devising methods to better characterize single-walled carbon nanotubes, which are among the most promising new materials emerging from nanotechnology research. These long molecular-sized tubes of chemically bonded carbon atoms display remarkable physical properties which promise advances in fields including high performance materials, nano-scale electronics, solar energy harvesting, and medical diagnostics and therapy. A barrier to realizing these applications is often the assortment of different nanotube structures - each with different properties - which result from nanotube synthesis. This project is developing and enhancing convenient and nondestructive optical nanotube analysis methods using near-infrared light. Novel instrumentation is being developed to enhance the speed and effectiveness of analysis, and to improve capabilities for physically sorting nanotube mixtures by structure. This work should enable progress in sorting nanotube samples according to length, an important goal for many applications.
The project provides valuable research experience to a number of undergraduate and graduate students. The analysis methods developed and refined will likely be incorporated into commercial scientific instruments. More broadly, the technical results of the project will also help overcome some of the obstacles that now hamper commercial production of nanotube-based devices and products. This may have a positive effect on the U.S. economy because of the substantial potential value of nanotube applications.