A team of researchers has developed a new process to make flexible, conducting 'nano skins' for a variety of applications, from electronic paper to sensors for detecting chemical and biological agents. The materials combine the strength and conductivity of carbon nanotubes with the flexibility of traditional polymers. The research is described in the March issue of the journal Nano Letters.
"Researchers have long been interested in making composites of nanotubes and polymers, but it can be difficult to engineer the interfaces between the two materials," says Pulickel Ajayan, the Henry Burlage Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "We have found a way to get arrays of nanotubes into a soft polymer matrix without disturbing the shape, size, or alignment of the nanotubes.
The team has developed a new procedure that allows them to grow an array of nanotubes on a separate platform and then fill the array with a soft polymer. When the polymer hardens, it is essentially peeled back from the platform, leaving a flexible skin with organized arrays of nanotubes embedded throughout.