Canadian scientists have discovered a new way to control the orientation and size of single-walled carbon nanotubes.
The chemists, based at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, claimed that their finding could pave the way for more powerful and cheaper semiconductors.
Semiconductors currently rely on silicon, but the scientists claimed that, using their research, it could be possible to use carbon nanotubes instead. As a result, technologists can reduce the size and increase the speed of processors.
Derek Schipper, who worked on the project at the University of Waterloo, said: "We're reaching the limits of what's physically possible with silicon-based devices.
"Not only would single-walled carbon nanotube-based electronics be more powerful, they would also consume less power."
Named the Alignment Relay Technique, this new process uses liquid crystals to send information to the surface of a metal-oxide substance.
Here, small molecules called iptycenes form and intertwine. According to the scientists, they lock the "orientation pattern into place".
These molecules use a comprehensive structure consisting of a small pocket which stores carbon nanotubes. The latter remains after washing.
"This is the first time chemists have been able to externally control the orientation of small molecules covalently bonded to a surface," explained Schipper.
"We're not the first ones to come up with potential solutions to work with carbon nanotubes. But this is the only one that tackles both orientation and purity challenges at the same time."
One of the more poignant aspects of this approach is that technologists can now control the size and orientation of semiconductors. Schipper said this is more effective than other self-assembly techniques.
Schipper said that the research "pointed out that the approach is from the bottom up with the use of organic chemistry to design and build a molecule which then does the hard work".
He added: "Once you've built the pieces, the process is simple. It's a bench-top method requiring no special equipment."
The study was co-authored by Serxho Selmani, who is a doctoral student in the department of chemistry at Waterloo. It will be published in the Angewandte Chemie International Edition journal.
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