Friction force differences could offer a new means for sorting and assembling nanotubes

These images compare an AFM tip sliding longitudinally along a carbon nanotube (left) versus sliding in the transverse direction. Photo credit: Image: Christian Klinke, University of HamburgNanotubes and nanowires are promising building blocks for future integrated nanoelectronic and photonic circuits, nanosensors, interconnects and electro-mechanical nanodevices. But some fundamental issues remain to be resolved – among them, how to position and manipulate the tiny tubes.

Publishing in the journal Nature Materials this week, researchers from four different institutions report measuring different friction forces when a carbon nanotube slides along its axis compared to when it slides perpendicular to its axis. This friction difference has its origins in soft lateral distortion of the tubes when they slide in the transverse direction.

The findings not only could provide a better understanding of fundamental friction issues, but from a more practical standpoint, offer a new tool for assembling nanotubes into devices and clarify the forces acting on them. Asymmetries in the friction could potentially also be used in sorting nanotubes according to their chirality, a property that is now difficult to measure with other means.

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