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Growing a batch of carbon nanotubes that are all the same may not be as simple as researchers had hoped, according to Rice University scientists.

Rice materials theorist Boris Yakobson and his team bucked a theory that when growing nanotubes in a furnace, a catalyst with a specific atomic arrangement and symmetry would reliably make carbon nanotubes of like chirality, the angle of its carbon-atom lattice.

Instead, they found the catalyst in question starts nanotubes with a variety of chiral angles but redirects almost all of them toward a fast-growing variant known as (12,6). The cause appears to be a Janus-like interface that is composed of armchair and zigzag segments - and ultimately changes how nanotubes grow.

Because chirality determines a nanotube's electrical properties, the ability to grow chiral-specific batches is a nanotechnology holy grail. It could lead to wires that, unlike copper or aluminum, transmit energy without loss. Nanotubes generally grow in random chiralities.

The Rice theoretical study detailed in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters could be a step toward catalysts that produce homogenous batches of nanotubes, Yakobson said.

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