‘Stained Glass’ CNTs Made
EVANSTON, Ill., April 10, 2008 -- Metallic carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been used to make thin films that are semitransparent, highly conductive, flexible and come in a range of colors, with an appearance similar to stained glass. The CNTs could lead to improved products such as flat panel displays and solar cells.
CNTs possess exceptional mechanical, thermal, chemical, optical and electrical properties which have inspired a vast range of proposed applications including transistors, logic gates, interconnects, conductive films, field emission sources, infrared emitters, biosensors, scanning probes, nanomechanical devices, mechanical reinforcements, hydrogen storage elements and catalytic supports.
Conductive, flexible carbon nanotube (CNT) “stained glass” on flexible plastic substrates. The CNT films are arranged in order of increasing average diameter (clockwise starting from lower left): 0.9, 1.0, 1.05, 1.1, 1.4, and 1.6 nanometers. The ability to control nanotube diameter leads to the visible colors that are apparent in the photograph. (Image courtesy Northwestern University)
Among these applications, transparent conductive films based on carbon nanotubes have attracted significant attention recently. Transparent conductors are materials that are optically transparent, yet electrically conductive. These materials are commonly used as electrodes in flat panel displays, touch screens, solid-state lighting and solar cells. With pressure for energy-efficient devices and alternative energy sources increasing, the worldwide demand for transparent conductive films also is rapidly increasing.
Indium tin oxide currently is the dominant material for transparent conductive applications. However, the relative scarcity of indium coupled with growing demand has led to substantial cost increases in the past five years. In addition to this economic issue, indium tin oxide suffers from limited optical tunability and poor mechanical flexibility, which compromises its use in applications such as organic LEDs and organic photovoltaic devices.
Researchers at Northwestern University took an important step toward identifying an alternative transparent conductor by using metallic nanotubes to make their semitransparent stained glass-like thin films. Their results are published online in the journal Nano Letters.
Using a technique known as density gradient ultracentrifugation, the researchers produced carbon nanotubes with uniform electrical and optical properties. Thin films formulated from these high-purity carbon nanotubes possess tenfold improvements in conductivity compared to pre-existing carbon nanotube materials.
In addition, density gradient ultracentrifugation allows carbon nanotubes to be sorted by their optical properties, enabling the formation of semitransparent conductive films of a certain color and resulting in films that have the appearance of stained glass. However, unlike stained glass, these CNT thin films possess high electrical conductivity and mechanical flexibility. The latter property overcomes one of the major limitations of indium tin oxide in flexible electronic and photovoltaic applications.
“Transparent conductors have become ubiquitous in modern society -- from computer monitors to cell phone displays to flat panel televisions,” said research team leader Mark Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
“High-purity carbon nanotube thin films not only have the potential to make inroads into current applications but also accelerate the development of emerging technologies such as organic LEDs and organic photovoltaic devices. These energy-efficient and alternative energy technologies are expected to be of increasing importance in the foreseeable future.”
Co-authoring the paper with Hersam is Alexander Green, a graduate student in materials science and engineering.
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the US Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center.
For more information, visit: www.northwestern.edu
- Pertaining to optics and the phenomena of light.
- The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
- solar cell
- A device for converting sunlight into electrical energy, consisting of a sandwich of P-type and N-type semiconducting wafers. A photon with sufficient energy striking the cell can dislodge an electron from an atom near the interface of the two crystal types. Electrons released in this way, collected at an electrode, can constitute an electrical current.
- thin film
- A thin layer of a substance deposited on an insulating base in a vacuum by a microelectronic process. Thin films are most commonly used for antireflection, achromatic beamsplitters, color filters, narrow passband filters, semitransparent mirrors, heat control filters, high reflectivity mirrors, polarizers and reflection filters.
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