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Nanotubes pass stiff composites test

MATERIALS - Cutting Edge

RESEARCHERS in the USA have developed tiny cylinders that could help boost the durability of composite materials.

Scientists have been studying for some time ways of using nanotubes ? microscopic tubes produced from polymers ? to help stiffen and toughen concrete, plastics and composites, but scientists have often found that the tubes are fragile and prone to collapse within a few hours.

But now researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed a process that can help extend the life of the nanotubes.

The method could help form sturdy nanotube networks and increase the likelihood of commercial applications, researchers claimed.

In a study supported by the Office of Naval Research, scientists produced tiny fluid-filled spherical containers with a two-layer membrane consisting of a polymer at one end that likes water and another that does not.

The researchers added soap to change the mechanical properties of the membranes before stretching them using infra-red lasers to produce minute, double-walled tubes.

Chemicals are then added to the tubes to form bonds between the two different sections, producing a rigid, cross-linked membrane.

The researchers claimed that the nanotubes maintain shape after several weeks of storage and are robust enough to be removed from the liquid they are stored in and used dry without affecting performance.

Previous studies have looked at the possibility of nanotubes containing chemicals that could help composite materials 'heal' themselves.