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Nano Shock Absorbers

Photonics.com
Aug 2008
CLEMSON, S.C., Aug. 15 2008 –– The market is hot with ultratiny electronic devices. Cell phones, mp3s, and cameras, for example, have enjoyed a fresh, new compact design, but with that comes a price – fragility.

A team of Clemson University researchers, led by Apparao Rao, professor of physics, have invented a way to make beds of tiny, shock-absorbing carbon springs which possibly could be used to protect delicate objects from damaging impacts.

With collaborators at the University of California at San Diego, the team has shown that layers of these tiny springs called coiled carbon nanotubes, each a thousand times smaller than a human hair, can act as extremely resilient shock absorbers.Clemson2.jpg


A few strands of coiled nanotubes. Photos courtesy of Clemson University.

Similar coiled carbon nanotubes have been made before, yet Clemson researchers say this method is unique since beds of coiled carbon nanotubes can be grown in a single step using a proprietary hydrocarbon-catalyst mixture.

The group also envisions coiled nanotubes in soldiers’ body armor, car bumpers and bushings and even as cushioning elements in shoe soles.

Clemson1.jpg
A bed of coiled nanotubes.

“The problem we have faced in the past is producing enough of these coiled carbon nanotubes at a reasonable cost to make a difference,” said Rao. “Because our current method produces coiled nanotubes quickly in high yield, it can be readily scaled up to industrial levels. After formation, the coiled nanotubes can be peeled off in one piece and placed on other surfaces to form instant cushioning coatings.”

In earlier studies, Rao and his team, along with UCSD collaborators, tested more conventional straight carbon nanotubes against coil-shaped nanotubes. When a stainless steel ball was dropped onto a single nanotube layer, the coiled nanotubes completely recovered from the impact, while the straight ones did not.

“It’s like an egg toss,” said Rao. “If you move your hand backward as you catch the egg and increase the time of contact over which the impact occurs, the impact will be less forceful and the egg will not break. It is the same phenomenon experienced in catching a baseball.”Clemson3.jpg


Clemson student, Keqin Yang, prepares a bed of coiled nanotubes.

In previous work, Rao’s group developed a process that coaxes a traditionally straight carbon nanotube to split into a “Y” shape. When powered by electrical voltages, the Y-branched nanotubes behave like tiny switches or transistors that process information.

“Our studies with carbon nanotubes have been ongoing for quite some time,” said Rao. “Each step along the way has led to the next breakthrough, and each time we’ve learned more about how they grow and what their applications could be. We believe that carbon nanotubes have tremendous potential for the lives of each one of us.”

For more information, visit: www.clemson.edu



GLOSSARY
photonics
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...
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