Published: 07 June 2013

Carbons in a twist: the science behind the nano-carbon helix

Professor Ravi Silva, Head of the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) at the University of Surrey, is part of a team of researchers to have produced unique carbon nanostructures with a mirrored spiral pair whose formation mechanism unfolded at the atomic scale.

Published in Scientific Reports, a Nature publication, a collaborative study by scientists at the University of Vienna, IFW Dresden and the ATI describes the process of growing microscopic structures of carbon starting with nano-scale catalyst to specific dimensions and shapes.

Through this pioneering method that may lead the way to the formation of more complex nano-networks, the researchers succeeded in creating nanoscale carbon structures that resemble tiny twirled moustaches. A parallel can be drawn between this process and the way in which DNA molecules encode information about the development of complex living organisms.

The authors have derived mathematical models which explain the formation of these microstructures and the processes which influence the shape of the spirals as they grow. This understanding represents a breakthrough in the nanofabrication of ‘designer’ self-assembled materials with precisely controlled properties.

Nanofabrication and functional materials with customizable properties are at the forefront of engineering. The UK maintains its role as a leader of this field, with Surrey recently announcing its commitment to the education of future engineers through the introduction of its BEng and MEng in Electronic Engineering with Nanotechnology. The University is also at the forefront of researcher training through the PhD in Electronic Engineering and the EngD in Micro and Nanomaterials and Technologies.

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