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From Tubes to Ribbons: A Novel, Bulk Process

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Kosynkin Figure 1a
Representation of the gradual unzipping of one wall of a carbon nanotube to form a nanoribbon.
National Nanomanufacturing Network: Take a carbon nanotube, split it down the middle and flatten it: what do you get? A graphene nanoribbon. While graphene itself is a material known for its strength and conductivity--as flat sheets of linked carbon--narrow ribbons of graphene can channel electrons length-wise, turning the the graphene into a semiconductor.

This week in Nature, James Tour and Dmitry Kosynkin from Rice University report a novel way to transform carbon nanotubes into nanoribbons. Their method, a room-temperature, chemical process, relies on sulfuric acid and potassium permanganate to effectively "unzip" the tubes. The process has been applied to single- and multi-walled carbon nanotubes, and allows for bulk production of ribbons. 

This process could potentially make "billions of ribbons at once," Tour stated in a Nature podcast (April 16). With potential applications in conductive films for displays or solar panels, the process is attracting manufacturers looking for a simple, efficient, and scalable method to handle graphene. "As soon as we started talking about this process, we began getting calls from manufacturers that recognized the potential," reports Tour on Nanotechwire. 

A complementary process, also reported in Nature this week by Liying Jiao and colleagues from Stanford University, uses a plasma etching process to render carbon nanotubes into semiconducting ribbons.

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Image reproduced by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature (Kosynkin DV, Higginbotham AL, Sinitskii A, Lomeda JR, Dimiev A, Price BK, and Tour JM. 2009. Longitudinal Unzipping of Carbon Nanotubes to Form Graphene Nanoribbons. Nature 458. DOI: 10.1038/nature07872.), copyright 2009. 

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