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Nanotube Carbon Fibres : Muscular, intelligent yet sensitive (LA RECHERCHE award, 2004)


December 2004

Glass Fibre, Carbon fibres, Kevlar : the majority of new materials are fibres. What would be the possibilities if we could synthesise fibres from that icon of the nanotechnology revolution, carbon nanotubes ?

Carbon nanotubes, molecular cylinders constructed from sheets of carbon atoms, have truly exceptional material properties. Now researchers from the Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal in Bordeaux (S. Badaire, A. Derré, M. Maugey, P. Poulin, B. Vigolo, C. Zakri) and the Laboratoire de Physique des Solides in Orsay (P. Launois, V. Pichot) are opening the way to this exciting future.

The idea of the team : create a fibre by solidifying a thin thread of nanotubes, by injecting them into a bath of liquid polymer. To achieve the highest possible strength, the nanotubes have to be aligned as closely as possible with the direction of the fibre. Thanks to repeated softening and stretching of the fibres, the alignment of the nanotubes (measured using X-rays) is improving - from a range of alignments around 35° in 2001, it has now dropped to 10°, a new world record.

A fibre with aligned nanotubes is extraordinarily strong ; Spiderman’s web has nothing on this ! Another interest in these fibres is their potential as highly sensitive electrodes, since the tangle of nanotubes in the fibre has a very large conducting surface. Amazingly the fibres expand when a voltage is applied, at much lower voltages than any other material. This means that it may be possible to use them to fabricate actuators or artificial muscles.

LA RECHERCHE, vol. 381, December 2004, p. 42