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Helping Nanotubes Get Into Shape
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Carbon nanotube bundle before (left) and after (right) densification.
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Helping Nanotubes
Get Into Shape

Rensselaer researchers have developed a new method of compacting carbon nanotubes into dense bundles that are efficient electrical conductors and could one day replace copper as the primary interconnects used on computer chips. They may also hasten the transition to next-generation 3-D stacked chips.

Theoretical studies show that carbon nanotubes, if packed closely enough together, should be able to outperform copper as an electrical conductor. But because of the way carbon nanotubes are grown—in sparse nanoscale “forests” where carbon molecules compete for growth-inducing catalysts—scientists have been unable to successfully grow tightly packed bundles.

James Jian-Quang Lu, associate professor of physics and electrical engineering, together with his research associate Zhengchun Liu, decided to investigate how to “densify” carbon nanotube bunches after they are already grown.

The team discovered that when they immerse vertically grown carbon nanotube bundles into a liquid organic solvent and allow them to dry, the nanotubes pull close together into a dense bundle. Lu attributes the densification process to capillary coalescence, which is the same physical principle that allows moisture to move up a piece of tissue paper that is dipped in water. The process boosts the density of these carbon nanotube bundles by five to 25 times. The higher the density, the better they can conduct electricity, Lu adds.

“It’s a significant and critical step toward the realization of carbon nanotube interconnects with better performance than copper,” Lu says. “But there’s still a lot of work to do before the technology can be integrated into industrial applications.” Despite his initial successes, Lu says the density results obtained are not ideal and carbon nanotubes would have to be further compacted before they can outperform copper as a conductor. The research team is exploring various methods to achieve ever-higher density and higher quality of carbon nanotube bundles.

Lu’s research is supported by the Interconnect Focus Center-New York at Rensselaer.

See also: The Original Nano Workout (Rensselaer Research Review)

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