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Material scientists turn nanotubes into super strong carbon

"We need lightweight, flexible materials with extraordinary mechanical properties," said researcher Sehmus Ozden. "Carbon nanotubes can offer a real solution."

By Brooks Hays
Material scientists turn nanotubes into super strong carbon
Researchers found the high-speed collisions of carbon nanotubes sometimes resulted in the creation of nanodiamonds -- an unexpected discovery. Photo by Ajayan Group/Rice University

HOUSTON, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Microstructures are the foundation of material strength. One of the most useful microstructures is the nanotube.

Researchers at Rice University are working on new ways to utilize the nanometer-scale tube-like structures. Their latest strategy is discovery-by-collision.

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Recently, the scientists begin creating nanodiamonds by smashing carbon nanotubes and other microstructures together at high speeds.

Researchers used a light-gas gun to propel the microstructures at an aluminum target at extremely high speeds. The collisions were sometimes strong enough to destroy the nanotubes' atomic bonds and trigger unique structural combinations.

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The scientists were just as interested in the newly minted microstructures as they were in the collisions that produced them.

By understanding how microstructures are affected by the impacts of high-velocity projectiles, researchers hope to create more resilient light-weight materials for spacecraft and satellites.

"Satellites and spacecraft are at risk of various destructive projectiles, such as micrometeorites and orbital debris," Rice graduate student Sehmus Ozden said in a news release. "To avoid this kind of destructive damage, we need lightweight, flexible materials with extraordinary mechanical properties. Carbon nanotubes can offer a real solution."

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Researchers tested nanotube collisions at a variety of speeds. Most of the nanotubes survived the low-speed collisions, roughly 2.4 miles per second, and many survived the medium-speed collisions, roughly 3.2 miles per second. Few survived the high-speed collisions at 4.3 miles per second. At the highest speeds, the majority split into nanoribbons and recombined to form new microstructures.

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"In our previous report, we showed that carbon nanotubes form graphene nanoribbons at hypervelocity impact," said Chandra Sekhar Tiwary, a Rice postdoctoral researcher. "We were expecting to get welded carbon nanostructures, but we were surprised to observe nanodiamond as well."

The new research was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

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