According to researchers at Rice University, the strong electric field of Tesla coil prompts carbon nanotubes to self-assemble into long, uniform wires. Discovered by Paul Cherukuri and his team at Rice, the process, which is being called “Teslaphoresis”, could pave the way for efficient, scalable assembly of nanotubes from scratch.
Invented by Nikola Tesla in the 1890s, Tesla coil is a type of induction coil that is used to produce high-frequency alternating current for delivering wireless electrical energy. As part of the new research, Cherukuri designed a modified version of the Tesla coil, which in turn creates a force field so strong that it can zap carbon nanotubes into self-assembling circuits.
The system, the team explains, has a tractor beam-like effect, pulling the nanosized wires toward itself over long distances. Such a phenomenon, according to the scientists, has never been observed before on a large scale. As the researchers point out, the redesigned coil creates a field that is capable of remotely oscillating the negative and positive charges in each nanotube, prompting them to form long wires. Speaking about the discovery, recently published in the ACS Nano journal, Cherukuri said:
Electric fields have been used to move small objects, but only over ultrashort distances. With Teslaphoresis, we have the ability to massively scale up force fields to move matter remotely.
In addition to causing carbon nanotubes to arrange themselves, the system harvests energy from the field, powering the circuits along the way. In one of the experiments, the nanoscale tubes formed a complete circuit with two LEDs, using the energy from the Tesla coil’s field to power the lights. The modified Tesla coil, the scientists claim, could generate a powerful electric field even at great distances. To confirm this, the team observed the movement and alignment of the carbon nanotubes located several feet away from the coil. Cherukuri added:
It is such a stunning thing to watch these nanotubes come alive and stitch themselves into wires on the other side of the room.
Carbon nanotubes (CNT) are microscopic wires made up of carbon atoms. Known for their remarkable physical, electrical, optical and thermal properties, these cylindrical carbon molecules can be used as semiconductors as well as superconductors, according to their structure. Up until now, however, an efficient, scalable technique of assembling the nanosized wires into functional circuits was beyond the grasp of scientists. Lindsey Bornhoeft, a graduate student of biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University and the paper’s chief author, said:
These nanotube wires grow and act like nerves, and controlled assembly of nanomaterials from the bottom up may be used as a template for applications in regenerative medicine.
Although the technology is yet to be tested on a large scale, the team believes it could one day pave the way for a new class of self-assembling electronics. Cherukuri was reported saying:
There are so many applications where one could utilize strong force fields to control the behavior of matter in both biological and artificial systems.
Source: Rice University