Future electronics based on carbon nanotubes
The exceptional properties of tiny molecular cylinders known as carbon nanotubes have tantalized researchers for years because of the possibility they could serve as a successors to silicon in laying the logic for smaller, faster and cheaper electronic devices.
First of all they are tiny—on the atomic scale and perhaps near the physical limit of how small you can shrink a single electronic switch. Like silicon, they can be semiconducting in nature, a fact that is essential for circuit boards, and they can undergo fast and highly controllable electrical switching.
But a big barrier to building useful electronics with carbon nanotubes has always been the fact that when they’re arrayed into films, a certain portion of them will act more like metals than semiconductors—an unforgiving flaw that fouls the film, shorts the circuit and throws a wrench into the gears of any potential electronic device.
In fact, according to Univ. of Illinois-Urbana Champaign professor John Rogers, the purity needs to exceed 99.999%—meaning even one bad tube in 100,000 is enough to kill an electronic device. “If you have lower purity than that,” he said, “that class of materials will not work for semiconducting circuits.”
Now Rogers and a team of researchers have shown how to strip out the metallic carbon nanotubes from arrays using a relatively simple, scalable procedure that does not require expensive equipment. Their work is described in the Journal of Applied Physics, from AIP Publishing.