Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated a technique for growing virtually pure samples of single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) with identical structures, a process they liken to "cloning" the nanotubes.* If it can be suitably scaled up, their approach could solve an important materials problem in nanoelectronics: producing carbon nanotubes of a specific structure to order.
Single-wall carbon nanotubes are hollow cylinders of carbon atoms bound together in a hexagonal pattern, usually about a nanometer in diameter. One fascinating feature of nanotubes is that there are many ways to wrap the hexagon sheet into a cylinder, from perfectly even rows of hexagons that wrap around in a ring, to rows that wrap in spirals at various angles—"chiralities," to be technical. Even more interesting, chirality is critical to the electronic properties of carbon nanotubes. Some structures are electrical conductors—essentially a nanoscale wire—others are semiconductors.