Nanotechnology Integrates Nanoparticles into Materials - dummies

Nanotechnology Integrates Nanoparticles into Materials

By Earl Boysen, Nancy C. Muir, Desiree Dudley, Christine Peterson

Nanotechnology researchers have discovered that weaving some materials, like cables and wires, with nanoparticles can result in stronger, lighter weight products. In addition, soaking fabrics with nanoparticles can keep you warmer, drier, or more aromatic.

Spin nanotubes into wires and cables

If you ever read the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, you remember some poor girl sitting at a spinning wheel turning wool into gold. Nano researchers actually want to do something like that with armchair carbon nanotubes (nanotubes that possess electrical properties similar to metals).

The technique is a little more complicated than that used with wool, but in this case you end up with a wire with carbon nanotubes aligned in one direction bonded with each other by means of the van der Waals force.

The van der Waals force is an attraction between molecules that forms a dipole (a positive charge on one end of the molecule and a negative charge on the other end).

Armchair carbon nanotubes contain some electrons that are free to move within the nanotube. When the nanotubes are placed end to end in a wire, electrons shift on the surface of the nanotubes so that a slightly positively charged end of one nanotube is placed next to a slightly negatively charged end of another nanotube. The nanotubes are therefore attracted to each other, which helps to hold the wire together.

Carbon nanotubes bonded together with van der Waals force.

Carbon nanotubes bonded together with van der Waals force.

When wires made of armchair carbon nanotubes become available, they could be used to improve materials, such as the following:

  • Wire with very low electrical resistance: This type of wire could be used to distribute electrical power over much longer distances with fewer losses due to resistance.

  • Very strong cable: This type of cable could be used in the space elevator to deliver materials into outer space.

Add nanoparticles to fibers

When you add nanoparticles to fibers, you can change their properties, making possible things such as lightweight fabric batteries and odor-proof clothing.

A couple of techniques are used to add nanoparticles to fibers. You can simply soak fibers in a liquid that contains nanoparticles, or you can place a positive or negative charge on the fibers and then soak them in a liquid containing nanoparticles with the opposite charge. Because opposite charges attract, the latter method makes it easy to ensure that nanoparticles coat each fiber. Here are some examples:

  • Fabrics that that repel water and stains by attaching nanoparticles that repel water to the fibers

  • Fabrics with attached nanoparticles that kill bacteria, helping to reduce odors in clothing

  • Nanoparticles that store ions or electrons within fibers, helping to turn fabrics into batteries