Phenomenon Causes Powerful Waves of Energy, Produces Electricity
|A carbon nanotube can produce a very rapid wave of power when it is coated by a layer of fuel and ignited, so that heat travels along the tube. Courtesy of Christine Daniloff|
A team of scientists has discovered a previously unknown phenomenon that can cause powerful waves of energy to shoot through minuscule wires known as carbon nanotubes. The discovery could lead to a new way of producing electricity, the researchers say. The phenomenon, described as thermopower waves, “opens up a new area of energy research, which is rare,” says Michael Strano, MIT’s Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, who was the senior author of a paper describing the new findings.
Like a collection of flotsam propelled along the surface by waves traveling across the ocean, it turns out that a thermal wave — a moving pulse of heat — traveling along a microscopic wire can drive electrons along, creating an electrical current. The key ingredient in the recipe is carbon nanotubes — submicroscopic hollow tubes made of a chicken-wire-like lattice of carbon atoms. These tubes, just a few billionths of a meter (nanometers) in diameter, are part of a family of novel carbon molecules, including buckyballs and graphene sheets, which have been the subject of intensive worldwide research over the last two decades.
Study results were reported that in Nature Materials on March 7, 2010. The lead author was Wonjoon Choi, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering.