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Carbon nanotubes “unzipped” into graphene nanoribbons by a chemical process invented at Rice University are finding use in all kinds of projects, but Rice scientists have now found a chemical-free way to unzip them.

The Rice lab of materials researcher Pulickel Ajayan discovered that nanotubes that hit a target end first turn into mostly ragged clumps of atoms. But nanotubes that happen to broadside the target unzip into handy ribbons that can be used in composite materials for strength and applications that take advantage of their desirable electrical properties.

The Rice researchers led by graduate student Sehmus Ozden reported their finding in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.

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