Carbon nanotubes, a recently discovered form of carbon fiber with structural perfection similar to that of a fullerene molecule, have interesting electronic, chemical and mechanical properties due to their size and structure. Nanotubes have great potential as a bulk material for strong, lightweight composite materials, and as individual nano-scale tools or devices. Initial work on applications with individual multiwalled nanotubes as field emission sources and scanning force microscopy tips is described. The nanotubes display intriguing field emission behavior interpreted as the nanotube unraveling under the influence of the electric field. The unraveling process is believed to result in facile field emission from linear atomic carbon chains at the end of the nanotube. Such atomic wires represent an excellent field emitter. The work on multiwalled nanotube SFM tips was equally encouraging. The high aspect ratio of the nanotube allows it to image deep trenches inaccessible to commercially available Si pyramidal tips, and it reduces the interaction with the ambient water layer on the sample which perturbs image quality. The most remarkable advantage of nanotube SFM tips is a result of their mechanical properties. It was found that the nanotubes will remain rigid during normal imaging, but conveniently buckle to the side if circumstances arise which create large forces known to damage the tip and sample. This feature makes the tip more durable than Si tips, and is especially important for soft biological samples.
In these two applications, as well as others, and in the measurements of novel nanotube properties, high quality, small diameter (0.5 to 2 nm) diameter single-walled nanotubes are most interesting. Such material can be produced slowly and in small amounts by catalytic arc vaporization and catalytic laser vaporization of graphite. It is well known that nanotubes can be mass produced by catalytic chemical vapor deposition (CCVD), but the product consists only of large, defective multiwalled nanotubes. It has been found that the standard CCVD technique can be made to exclusively produce small single-walled nanotubes by lowering the concentration of reactants. It is shown that this change in product morphology is a result of a change in the rate limiting step of the CCVD reaction. Nanotube nucleation and growth termination are also studied for this CCVD system. Prospects for mass production of single-walled nanotubes by this modified CCVD technique are considered.