The first synthesis and characterization of carbon nanotubes were reported by Iijima from NEC in late 1991. The initial theoretical study of their electronic structure was soon followed with the work by Dresselhaus and coworkers at MIT (Dresselhaus et al. 1992; Saito et al. 1992a; Saito et al. 1992b). Since then, the fabrication of nanotubes has been improved by several groups, and methods other than arc discharge have been explored. The main issues are to separate the nanotubes from other forms of carbon also produced in the fabrication process and to increase the yield of single-walled nanotubes (SWNT) for potential applications. Following Iijima's work, macroscopic quantities of MWNT were produced with an improved arc discharge method by Ebbesen and coworkers at NEC (Tsukuba) (Ebbesen and Ajayan 1992).

Table 5.4
Summary of Quantum Dot Laser Results


QD composition & size

Threshold (kA/cm2)

Operating T (K)

Wavelength (Ám)




7 nm







(Kirstaedter et al. 1994)




30 nm




(Hirayama et al. 1994)




20 nm




(Shoji et al. 1995)




25 nm




(Moritz et al. 1996)









(Mirin et al. 1996)

United States



12 nm




(Kamath et al. 1996)

United States



10 layers




(Ledentsov et al. 1996)


Source: Bimberg et al. 1997

It was not until 1995 that Smalley and colleagues at Rice University showed that SWNT can be efficiently produced by laser ablation of a graphite rod (Guo et al. 1995). In the following year, that same group produced what is considered to be among the best SWNT material generated so far; over 70% of the volume of material was nanotubes bundled together into crystalline ropes of metallic character (Thess et al. 1996). Also in 1996, a group from the Chinese Academy of Science used chemical vapor deposition to produce a 50 mm thick film of nanotubes that were highly aligned perpendicular to the surface (Li et al. 1996). Progress in recent years leads one to predict that it will indeed be possible to produce high quality carbon nanotubes in macroscopic quantities needed for many of the applications outlined below.

Nanotube bundles form a low density material and are expected to have high stiffness and axial strength as a result of their seamless cylindrical graphitic structure. It is therefore predicted that they can be used to fabricate a material with better mechanical properties than the present carbon fiber materials. Information about the mechanical properties of nanotubes has been gathered recently by a study of the thermal vibrations of a single SWNT attached to a substrate (Treacy et al. 1996). Ebbesen's group at the Princeton NEC Research Institute found that nanotubes have an exceptionally high Young's modulus (~ 2 x 109 Pa) (Treacy et al. 1996). In order to reach a better understanding of the mechanical properties and intrinsic limitations of nanotubes, Bernholc's group from North Carolina State University theoretically studied the behavior of nanotubes beyond the linear Hooke's law and the nature of the defects leading to dislocations and fractures (Yakobson et al. 1996; Nardelli et al. 1998).

Nanotubes are highly polarizable nanoscale straws, a property that confers on them the capacity to ingest inorganic elements by nanocapillarity (Pederson and Broughton 1992). As a result, it has been conjectured that they could be used as minute molds to shape nanometer-sized quantum wires and as miniature test tubes. Ajayan and coworkers at NEC (Tsukuba) have first shown that lead can be introduced into carbon nanotubes (Ajayan and Iijima 1993). The efficiency of their process is low, and prior removal of the caps from the ends of the nanotubes is expected to improve the situation (Tsang et al. 1993). More information about the mechanism of NT filling was obtained by Pascard and coworkers from the École Polytechnique in France by studying the propensity to form nanowires for 15 encapsulated metal elements (Guerret-Plécourt et al. 1994). Finally, external decoration of nanotubes with metal atoms has been demonstrated and is predicted to have applications in catalysis (Satishkumar et al. 1996). Table 5.5 summarizes the primary methods of nanotube fabrication and the institutions engaged in specific methods of nanotube fabrication.

Early theoretical studies already showed that the electronic properties of nanotubes strongly depend on their diameter and their chirality leading to metallic or semiconducting structures (Saito et al. 1992c). It was conjectured that these properties can be used to construct nanoscale electronic devices. While theoretical studies were promptly published, it was only in 1996 that Ebbesen and coworkers (1996) at the Princeton NEC Research Institute presented reliable four-point probe conductivity measurements on MWNT, confirming the theoretical predictions. In 1997, two groups, one at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Bockrath et al. 1997) and the second at Delft University (Tans et al. 1997) in the Netherlands showed that conductivity through nanotubes is controlled by low dimensional effects such as resonant tunneling and single-electron charging effects. Hall effect measurements at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have shown that hole transport is predominant in electronic conductance (Baumgartner et al. 1997). Despite these and other very recent and encouraging efforts such as those studying the mean free path of carriers in nanotubes, the conduction mechanism is still only partially understood (Petit et al. 1997).


Table 5.5
Nanotube Fabrication Methods



Laser ablation - SWNT

Rice University

Arc discharge - SWNT

University of Montpellier

University of Kentucky

Arc discharge - MWNT


Chemical vapor deposition - aligned MWNT


Metallic nanotubes are strongly polarizable in an electric field and thereby lead to field enhancement at their extremity, the strength of which depends on the ratio of the diameter to the length and can be extremely large for routinely produced nanotubes. For this reason and possibly others related to quantum confinement effects, nanotubes are expected to form outstanding field-emitting materials. In 1995, the Rice University group showed that nanotubes emit electrons very efficiently when immersed in an electric field and irradiated by a laser to remove their cap (Rinzler et al. 1995). They attribute their observation to the unraveling of an atomic wire of carbon atoms. Efficient field emission was also obtained from carefully aligned nanotubes by de Heer and coworkers (1995) at EPFL, whereas Collins and coworkers from the University of California at Berkeley (Collins and Zettl 1996, 1997), have used randomly oriented nanotubes with similar results. Efficient field-emitting material is highly desirable for the production of field-emission displays and microwave tubes.

Recently, a group from Mie University in Japan has built a cathode ray tube (CRT) using nanotube field emitters (Saito et al. n.d.). In this work, the layers of nanotubes were cut out from the soot produced in an arc discharge chamber. This fabrication method is presently not compatible with industrial production requirements, and more progress must be made before this effort can be translated into an industrial product. Table 5.6 summarizes the electrical and field emission properties of nanotubes, with the representative institutions pursuing these studies.

In summary, macroscopic amounts of good quality nanotubes can presently be fabricated by several groups around the world, and the theoretical understanding of the electronic structure and related properties of nanotubes has reached a very good level. However, despite the fact that many potential applications are mentioned in the literature over and over again, only the outstanding field emission properties of nanotubes have achieved realization in practical devices. One of the main obstacles simply remains the controlled manipulation of nanoscale objects. In this respect it seems that the generation of self-aligned structures is a path to explore further, especially after the encouraging successes reported in the literature in 1997-98.

Table 5.6
Electrical and Field Emission Properties of Nanotubes



Theory and experiment: nanotubes can be metallic or semiconducting


Conductivity shows low dimensional signature


Delft University

Field emission from unraveled carbon chains at the end of nanotubes

Rice University

Field emission from aligned nanotubes attached to scanning probe tip


CRTs fabricated with nanotubes as field emitters

Mie University


Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian