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March 11, 2010

Carbon Nanotube Speakers Could Be Powered by Lasers

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A UT Dallas team’s study published in the Journal of Applied Physics expands the extraordinary capabilities of nanotechnology to include laser-powered acoustic speakers made from assemblies of carbon nanotubes.

The study confirms earlier research that carbon nanotubes that are stretched into sheets and electrically powered can produce intense sound, but researchers at UT Dallas’ Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute have made some important advancements.

Although prior studies demonstrated that sheets of carbon nanotubes can produce sound when heated with alternating electrical current, the UT Dallas researchers have found that striking tones can be generated by vertical arrays of nanotubes, called forests, which resemble black velvet.

The team also discovered that high-quality sound can be generated when nanotube sheets or forests are struck with laser light that is modulated, or “altered,” in the acoustic frequency range.



With laser excitation, no electrical contact with the nanotube speaker is required, making the speakers wireless.

“Speakers made with carbon nanotube sheets are extremely thin, light and almost transparent,” Kozlov said. “They have no moving parts and can be attached to any surface, which makes the surface acoustically active. They can be concealed in television and computer screens, apartment walls, or in the windows of buildings and cars. The almost invisible strands form films that can ‘talk.’”

In addition to filling a room with sound from invisible speakers, nanotube speakers could easily cancel sound from the noisiest neighbor or dim the roar of traffic rushing past a neighborhood, using the same principles as current sound-canceling technologies.

“The sound generation by nanotube sheets can help to achieve this effect on very large scales,” Kozlov said.

Journal of Applied Physics - Sound of carbon nanotube assemblies

Strong thermo- and photoacoustic responses have been detected for aligned arrays of multiwalled carbon nanotube (MWNT) forests and solid drawn MWNT sheets. When heated using alternating current or a near-IR laser modulated in 100–20 000 Hz range, the nanotube assemblies generated loud, audible sound, with higher sound pressure being detected from the MWNT sheets. An evaluation of nonlinear distortions of the thermoacoustic signal revealed a highly peculiar behavior of the third and fourth harmonics produced from forests grown on silicon wafers. The peculiarities were especially pronounced for short forests and can be associated with the heat transfer from the MWNT layer to the substrate. For both types of nanotube assemblies, the acoustic signal’s amplitude varied with frequency approximately by the power low fp. The power factor p was found to be unexpectedly high for short forests probably due to heat loss to the substrate. The observed peculiarities can be used for the characterization of the prepared MWNT assemblies. The dependencies can also be helpful for evaluating the properties of thermal interfaces, in particular, those based on carbon nanotubes.

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