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Despite their almost incomprehensibly small size -- a diameter about one ten-thousandth the thickness of a human hair -- single-walled carbon nanotubes come in a plethora of different "species," each with its own structure and unique combination of electronic and optical properties. Characterizing the structure and properties of an individual carbon nanotube has involved a lot of guesswork -- until now.

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have developed a technique that can be used to identify the structure of an individual carbon nanotube and characterize its electronic and optical properties in a functional device.

"Using a novel high-contrast polarization-based optical microscopy set-up, we've demonstrated video-rate imaging and in-situ spectroscopy of individual carbon nanotubes on various substrates and in functional devices," says Feng Wang, a condensed matter physicist with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division. "For the first time, we can take images and spectra of individual nanotubes in a general environment, including on substrates or in functional devices, which should be a great tool for advancing nanotube technology."

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