Carbon nanotubes are hollow wires of carbon about 50,000 times narrower than a human hair. They are materials which have many potential uses in numerous fields of science and technology, but they aren’t really spread because they are very difficult to produce in large quantities. They are currently produced in batches, with only a few of them having the wanted characteristics in each batch process. Obviously, that is about to change.
Researchers from Berkeley have discovered a molecule called cycloparaphenylene which is on a good path to enable targetted development of carbon nanotubes — which would be of huge importance in various fields such as electronics, optics and medicine.
“The catch in this field is to come up with a way to make a single type of carbon nanotube on demand,” says Ramesh Jasti, one of the researchers. “And this compound moves us toward this goal of rational synthesis.”
The research team from Berkeley developed a hoop-shaped chain of benzene molecules whose synthesis couldn’t be done, despite numerous efforts, since it was theorized more than 70 years ago.
To synthesize the elusive cycloparaphenylene, the team developed a relatively simple, low-temperature way to bend a string of benzene rings — which normally resist bending — into a hoop. The result is a structure that is as unusual as it is potentially useful. It should be flat, but it’s circular. And it’s poised to improve the way one of most promising stars in nanotechnology is produced.
“Cycloparaphenylene, which we synthesized for the first time, could help us create a batch of carbon nanotubes that is 99% of what we want, rather than fish out the one percent like we do today,” said Jasti. “The idea is to take the smallest fragment of a carbon nanotube, and use that to build tubular structures.”
The details are published in Journal of the American Chemical Society. The research was funded by the Department of Energy.