Carbon nanotubes are tubular carbon molecules that have properties that make them potentially useful in nanotechnology. They exhibit unusual strength and unique electrical properties, and are extremely efficient conductors of heat.
A nanotube is a structure similar to a fullerene, only the carbon atoms are rolled into a cylinder instead of a sphere; each end is capped with half a fullerene molecule. They are only one nanometer wide (on the order of one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair), and their length can be millions of times greater than their width.
In 1889, two British men received a US patent on producing "hair-like carbon filaments" from methane. In the 1960s and 1970s, groups at the National Carbon[?] company in Parma, Ohio, United States and the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, produced and identified the tubes.
Nanotubes were rediscovered in 1991 by Sumio Iijima[?]. It has since been discovered how nanotubes can be produced in large quantities. The price of nanotubes are still in the $100 dollar per gram range which prohibits any large scale use of them.
Nanotubes can be opened and filled with materials such as biological molecules, raising the possibility of applications in biotechnology. They can be used to dissipate heat from tiny computer chips. The strength and flexibility of carbon nanotubes makes them of potential use in controlling other nanoscale structures, which suggests they will have an important role in nanotechnology engineering.
One use for nanotubes that has already been developed is as extremely fine electron guns, which could be used as miniature cathode ray tubes in thin high-brightness low-energy low-weight displays. In this type of display, a group of many tiny CRTs would provide the electrons to hit the phosphors of one pixel, instead of having one giant CRT whose electrons are aimed using electric and magnetic fields[?]. These diplays are known as Field Emission Displays[?] (FEDs) A nanotube formed by joining nanotubes of two different diameters end to end can act as a diode, suggesting the possibility of constructing electronic computer circuits entirely out of nanotubes. Nanotubes have been shown to be superconducting at low temperatures.
Other applications for nanotubes that are currently being researched include high tensile strength fibers. These take advantage of the incredible aspect ratio and strength of nanotubes. Computer storage devices using nanotubes are currently in the prototype stages. Both high speed non-volatile memory[?] which can be used to replace nearly all solid state memory in computers today and high density storage that may replace hard drives are being devoloped. Major limiting factors in development include orienting the nanotubes which tend to tangle because of their length and their price.