Dumitrica helps develop predictive tool for nanotube breaks

A new computer modeling approach developed by materials scientists at the University of Minnesota and Rice University is allowing researchers to create a “strength map” that plots the likelihood or probability that a carbon nanotube will break—and how it’s likely to break—based on four key variables. Traian Dumitrica, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is co-author of the study, which appears in this week’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Carbon nanotubes are single molecules of pure carbon. They are long, narrow, hollow cylinders with walls just one atom thick. Scientists estimate single-wall nanotubes are about 100 times stronger than steel at one-sixth the weight.

In practice, however, scientists have struggled to make nanotubes that exhibit such strength, in part because there still are many unanswered questions about how nanotubes break and under what conditions.

In developing the computational model of nanotube breaking patterns, the researchers considered four critical values: load level, load duration, temperature, and chirality (the angle at which nanotubes are twisted).

“Our study shows that the breaking of a particular nanotube depends to a great extent on its little structural twist called chirality. This comes as a surprise since elastic mechanical properties do not depend on chirality,” said Dumitrica.

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