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Electrical Properties of Boron-Nitride Nanotubes

Nanotechnology research scientists have discovered that all boron-nitride nanotubes have semiconductor properties, making this nano-material very useful in electronics. Additionally, nanotechnologists are working to create composites to make very strong, but light-weight, materials.

Boron-nitride nanotubes were discovered in 1995. Research into applications for carbon nanotubes is much further along than for boron-nitride nanotubes; but researchers are working on taking advantage of the benefits that boron-nitrite nanotubes offer.

Boron-nitride nanotubes are similar to carbon nanotubes, in that they are hollow cylinders formed by atoms connected together in hexagonal shapes. However. boron-nitride nanotubes, instead of being composed of carbon atoms, are composed of boron atoms covalently bonded to nitrogen atoms to form hexagons.

The bonding structure between boron and nitrogen in a boron-nitride nanotube.
The bonding structure between boron and nitrogen in a boron-nitride nanotube.

What’s interesting is that boron-nitride nanotubes have more consistent electrical properties than carbon nanotubes. Unlike carbon nanotubes, only some of which have the electrical properties of semiconductors, all boron-nitride nanotubes have those properties. Therefore, using boron-nitride nanotubes as the transistor channel in place of carbon nanotubes ensures that you have a nanotube with semiconductor properties.

Researchers are also looking at the possibility of using boron-nitride nanotubes, which are almost as strong as carbon nanotubes, in composites to create strong lightweight materials. Such composites may be particularly useful for spacecraft. In a hull built using a composite material containing boron-nitride nanotubes, the boron atoms can absorb neutrons from the solar wind and protect the crew and electronics.

Slightly different types of boron atoms are called isotopes. If you ever find yourself in a position to use them, be sure to specify the right kind of isotope for absorbing neutrons: boron-10, also referred to as 10B.

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