Carbon nanotubes have the potential to offer dramatic structural strength improvements and a sustainable means to produce transparent electrodes, among many other potential applications. Unfortunately, they agglomerate and form microscale bundles that have no such advantages.
Seeking to solve this problem, researchers have developed a scalable method for breaking up these bundles to deliver individual carbon nanotubes using surface acoustic waves in a piezoelectric substrate, a very high frequency vibration that produces mechanical accelerations greater than 100 million times the acceleration of gravity. These vibrations break down the bundles, and the electric field present in the piezoelectric substrate charges the bundle remains to eject individual carbon nanotubes in large quantities. Uniquely, the group claims, this is done without requiring their suspension in a fluid, nor detergents, nor special preprocessing or treatment.