A carbon nanotube (CNT) is a tube made of carbon with diameters typically measured in nanometres.
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Single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) Single-wall carbon nanotubes are one of the allotropes of carbon, intermediate between fullerene cages and flat graphene, with diameters in the range of a nanometre. Although not made this way, single-wall carbon nanotubes can be idealized as cutouts from a two-dimensional hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms rolled up along one of the Bravais lattice vectors of the hexagonal lattice to form a hollow cylinder. In this construction, periodic boundary conditions are imposed over the length of this roll-up vector to yield a helical lattice of seamlessly bonded carbon atoms on the cylinder surface.
Multi-wall carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) consisting of nested single-wall carbon nanotubes weakly bound together by van der Waals interactions in a tree ring-like structure. If not identical, these tubes are very similar to Oberlin, Endo, and Koyama's long straight and parallel carbon layers cylindrically arranged around a hollow tube. Multi-wall carbon nanotubes are also sometimes used to refer to double- and triple-wall carbon nanotubes.
The length of a carbon nanotube produced by common production methods is often not reported, but is typically much larger than its diameter. Thus, for many purposes, end effects are neglected and the length of carbon nanotubes is assumed infinite.
Carbon nanotubes can exhibit remarkable electrical conductivity, while others are semiconductors. They also have exceptional tensile strength and thermal conductivity because of their nanostructure and strength of the bonds between carbon atoms. In addition, they can be chemically modified. These properties are expected to be valuable in many areas of technology, such as electronics, optics, composite materials (replacing or complementing carbon fibers), nanotechnology, and other applications of materials science.
Rolling up a hexagonal lattice along different directions to form different infinitely long single-wall carbon nanotubes shows that all of these tubes not only have helical but also translational symmetry along the tube axis and many also have nontrivial rotational symmetry about this axis. In addition, most are chiral, meaning the tube and its mirror image cannot be superimposed. This construction also allows single-wall carbon nanotubes to be labeled by a pair of integers.
A special group of achiral single-wall carbon nanotubes are metallic, but all the rest are either small or moderate band gap semiconductors. These electrical properties, however, do not depend on whether the hexagonal lattice is rolled from its back to front or from its front to back and hence are the same for the tube and its mirror image.
The remarkable properties predicted for SWCNTs were tantalizing, but a path to creating them was lacking until 1993, when Iijima and Ichihashi at NEC and Bethune et al. at IBM independently discovered that co-vaporizing carbon and transition metals such as iron and cobalt could specifically catalyze SWCNT formation. These discoveries triggered research that succeeded in greatly increasing the efficiency of the catalytic production technique, and led to an explosion of work to characterize and find applications for SWCNTs.