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|The shortest segment of a carbon nanotube has been synthesized for the first time. The compound, called cycloparaphenylene, could usher in a new era of more efficient carbon nanotube production. Berkeley Lab is a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through its Office of Science. It is managed by the University of California (UC) and is charged with conducting unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Located on a 200 acre site in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus that offers spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley Lab employs approximately 4,000 scientists, engineers, support staff and students. Its budget for 2008 was approximately $600 million. Studies estimate the Laboratory’s overall economic impact through direct, indirect and induced spending on the nine counties that make up the San Francisco Bay Area to be nearly $700 million annually. The overall economic impact on the global economy is an estimated $1.4 billion a year. Technologies developed at Berkeley Lab have generated billions of dollars in revenues, and thousands of jobs. Savings as a results of Berkeley Lab developments in lighting and windows, and other energy-efficient technologies, have also been in the billions of dollars. Berkeley Lab was founded in 1931 by Ernest Orlando Lawrence, a UC Berkeley physicist who won the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the cyclotron, a circular particle accelerator that opened the door to high-energy physics. It was Lawrence’s belief that scientific research is best done through teams of individuals with different fields of expertise, working together. His teamwork concept is a Berkeley Lab legacy that continues today.|
A compound synthesized for the first time by Berkeley Lab scientists could help to push nanotechnology out of the lab and into faster electronic devices, more powerful sensors, and other advanced technologies.
The scientists developed a hoop-shaped chain of benzene molecules that had eluded synthesis, despite numerous efforts, since it was theorized more than 70 years ago.
The much-anticipated debut of the compound, called cycloparaphenylene, couldn't be better timed. It comes as scientists are working to improve the way carbon nanotubes are produced, and the newly synthesized nanohoop happens to be the shortest segment of a carbon nanotube. Scientists could use the segment to grow much longer carbon nanotubes in a controlled way, with each nanotube identical to the next.
"The holy grail in this field is to come up with a way to make a single type of carbon nanotube on demand," says Ramesh Jasti, a postdoctoral researcher in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division. "And this compound moves us toward this goal of rational synthesis."
Jasti conducted the research at the Molecular Foundry, a U.S. Department of Energy User Facility located at Berkeley Lab that provides support to nanoscience researchers around the world. He worked with Carolyn Bertozzi, director of the Molecular Foundry, as well as other Berkeley Lab scientists.
To synthesize the elusive cycloparaphenylene, the team developed a relatively simple, low-temperature way to bend a string of benzene rings — which normally resist bending — into a hoop. The result is a structure that is as unusual as it is potentially useful. It should be flat, but it's circular. And it's poised to improve the way one of most promising stars in nanotechnology is produced.
Carbon nanotubes are hollow wires of pure carbon about 50,000 times narrower than a human hair. They can be semiconducting or metallic depending on how they're structured. Their unique properties could usher in a new era of faster and smaller computers, or tiny sensors powerful enough to detect a single molecule.
But carbon nanotubes haven't made inroads into the electronics industry and other sectors because they're difficult to make in large quantities. They're currently produced in batches, with only a handful of nanotubes in each batch possessing the desired characteristics. This shotgun approach works fine in the lab, but it's too inefficient for commercial applications.
Cycloparaphenylene offers a more targeted approach. The family of compounds forms the smallest carbon hoop structure with a set diameter and set orientation of benzene molecules, which are the two variables that determine a nanotube's electronic properties. Because of this, cycloparaphenylene molecules could be used as seeds or templates to grow large batches of carbon nanotubes with just the right specifications.
This combination of precision and high yield will be needed if carbon nanotubes are to make the jump from the lab to the commercial sector. In order for carbon nanotubes to replace silicon wafers in electronics, for example, they'll need to be just as unblemished as silicon wafers, and just as easy to make in large numbers.
"This compound, which we synthesized for the first time, could help us create a batch of carbon nanotubes that is 99 percent of what we want, rather than fish out the one percent like we do today," says Jasti. "The idea is to take the smallest fragment of a carbon nanotube, and use that to build tubular structures."
The research, which is published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, was funded in part by the Department of Energy.
About Berkeley Lab
In the world of science, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is synonymous with “excellence.” Eleven scientists associated with Berkeley Lab have won the Nobel Prize and 55 Nobel Laureates either trained here or had significant collaborations with our Laboratory. Thirteen of our scientists have won the National Medal of Science, our nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research. As of 2008, there have been 61 Berkeley Lab scientists elected into the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), considered one of the highest honors for a scientist in the United States. This translates to approximately three-percent of the total NAS membership, an unparalleled record of achievement. Eighteen of our engineers have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and two of our scientists have been elected into the Institute of Medicine. In addition, Berkeley Lab has trained thousands of university science and engineering students who are advancing technological innovations across the nation and around the world.
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