Engineers are creating clothing that can charge your cell phone. What makes this possible are the unique properties of carbon nanotubes: a large surface area that is strong, conductive and heat-resistant

UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science is working on developing clothing that can charge cell phones.

In this scheme of things, carbon will replace polyester and other synthetic fibers. And since carbon nanotubes are the blackest objects found on Earth, absorbing 99.9 percent of all visible light, you might say carbon is the new black.

Carbon nanotubes will replace copper wire in cars and planes to reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency. Carbon will filter our water and tell us more about our lives and bodies through new biometric sensors.

UC’s Nanoworld Lab directs the collective work of 30 graduate and undergraduate students.

One of them, UC research associate Sathya Narayan Kanakaraj, co-authored a study examining ways to improve the tensile strength of dry-spun carbon nanotube fiber. His results were published in June in the journal Materials Research Success.

Graduate student Mark Haase, spent the past year exploring applications for carbon nanotubes at the Air Force Research Lab of Wright-Patterson. Through the partnership, UC students use the Air Force Lab’s sophisticated equipment, including X-ray computer tomography, to analyze samples. Haase has been using the Air Force equipment to help his classmates with their projects as well.

“This pushes us to work in groups and to specialize. These are the same dynamics we see in corporate research and industry,” Haase said. “Engineering is a group activity these days so we can take advantage of that.”

UC researchers “grow” nanotubes on quarter-sized silicon wafers under heat in a vacuum chamber through a process called chemical vapor deposition.

“Each particle has a nucleation point. Colloquially, we can call it a seed,” Haase said.

“Our carbon-containing gas is introduced into the reactor. When the carbon gas interacts with our ‘seed,’ it breaks down and re-forms on the surface. We let it grow until it reaches the size we want,” he said.

Researchers can use almost any carbon, from alcohol to methane.

“I remember one group showed off by using Girl Scout cookies. If it contains carbon, you can turn it into a nanotube,” Haase said.

UC’s Nanoworld Lab set a world record in 2007 by growing a nanotube that stretched nearly 2 centimeters, the longest carbon nanotube array produced in a lab at the time. Today’s labs can create nanotubes that are many times longer.

UC researchers stretch the little fibrous square over an industrial spool in the lab. Suddenly, this tiny sheet of carbon becomes a spun thread that resembles spider’s silk that can be woven into textiles.

“It’s exactly like a textile,” Shanov said. “We can assemble them like a machine thread and use them in applications ranging from sensors to track heavy metals in water or energy storage devices, including super capacitors and batteries.”

Materials provided by University of Cincinnati.

Note: Content has been edited by Ziraat Times for style and length.

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