Nanotechnology has the ability to revolutionise many of the products we use in our everyday lives, from the development of new materials to complex devices. Individual nanoparticles can be thought of as a bridge between bulk materials and individual molecules, and as a result of their small size and structure can possess remarkable properties. However, when a group of nanoparticles are assembled into a bulk material by current manufacturing techniques, their unique characteristics usually decrease by at least an order of magnitude. This decrease arises due to a lack of control over nanoparticle orientation and positioning, and poor inter-particle interactions. The development of novel nano-manufacturing processes is therefore crucial to realise the potential of nanotechnology enabled materials.
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are tubes of carbon atoms with diameters and thicknesses on the nanoscale. These nanoparticles have attracted a great deal of interest in as a result of their highly desirable properties which include: high mechanical strength and toughness, thermal and electrical conductivity, chemical resistance, versatile reactivity, and high surface area and adsorption. However, controlling the assembly of CNTs on the nano, micro and macro-scale poses a significant barrier to their application.
In my PhD I am developing a novel method for structuring CNTs (and other carbon-based nanomaterials) into porous micro-dimensional particles with identical shape and size. These larger particles can then be packed into an ordered, close packed arrangement, similarly to how fruit is stacked at a market. By arranging regular particles into three-dimensions, a macroscopic material with a hierarchy of pores and particle order can be built from the nanoscale up. Once I am able to fabricate large quantities of these structurally controlled, CNT-based materials, they will be explored for applications including catalysis, water filtration and battery electrodes.