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Fullerenes, Nanotubes & Chemical Nanoscience  

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Buckminster Fullerene, C60, and the other larger fullerenes are a recently discovered class of carbon structures. They have cage structures consisting of interconnected hexagons and pentagons of carbon atoms. Because of this closed-cage morphology fullerenes can be used as containers for individual atoms or even small clusters such as Er3N.

Encapsulating atoms allows them to be handled and manipulated through traditional chemical techniques, even allowing atomic physics studies to be performed in a test-tube.

We perform extensive modification of fullerenes through the addition of functional groups covalently attached to the sidewall of the cage. This can be performed through chemistry analogous to that of alkenes as the cage behaves more like a poly-ene than a delocalised benzene-based structure.


image of fullerene crystal

Carbon Nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes were also only recently discovered, in 1991 when they were found by a Japanese electron microscopist, Sumio IIjima. Since then there has been an explosion of research into these fascinating materials.

They can be viewed as a rolled-up sheet of graphene (a single layer of graphite). Their cylindrical form and the effects of this on the electronic structure imparts some unusual electrical properties. Multiwall nanotubes, for example, are ballistic conductors of electricity and have a lot in common with superconductors in this regard (though they do not possess the same magnetic properties).

In a similar way to our fullerene work we are able to modify the behaviour of nanotubes through chemical manipulation. We are particularly interested in their use as containers (see below) or as components of self-assembled devices.


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Molecules in Nanotubes & Peapods

Because of their hollow, cylindrical shape carbon nanotubes are excellent containers. Nanotubes can be synthesised in a variety of types with a range of internal and external diameters. As we can (to a certain extent) select a certain diameter range this enables us to tune their interaction and filling rate with other molecules.

Their circular cross-section makes them ideal containers for fullerenes. Excellent matches in diameter between certain single-walled carbon nanotubes and C60 mean that extended chains of fullerenes can be inserted inside the nanotube.

We routinely prepare "peapods" of nanotubes packed with a variety of functionalised fullerenes even those with encased atoms (called endohedral fullerenes).


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Reactions in Nanotubes

Not only can we fill the nanotubes with fullerenes or molecules, we can also perform reactions inside the tube.

By inserting strings of molecules with reactive functional groups into a nanotube we can allow or induce chemical reaction between neighbours inside the cylinder. Because they are confined to a single axis it is possible to produce products that it is not possible to obtain anywhere else.

This so-called one-dimensional reaction can lead to linear polymers that would otherwise have reacted to form bulk, branched and cross-linked morphologies.

We hold a Guinness World Record for the Smallest Test-Tube in the World!


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In addition to our work investigating the interactions between molecules and carbon nanotubes we are interested to determine whether we can extrapolate the rules governing the interaction behaviour of molecules and apply them to objects and order of magnitude or two bigger.

We grow a variety of functional nanoparticles and investigate how they interact with each other and also with carbon nanotubes. This work is performed both from the viewpoint of device and applications development and from the viewpoint of understanding the fundamental principles which dictate the structures and architectures.


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Functional Patterns & Assembly

As a consequence of the understanding we have developed in the interaction between nanoscopic objects we are able to extend the idea to direct the assembly of conducting networks so that there is information (function) encoded in the structure of the product.

We aim to use heterstructured films of nanoparticles and nanotubes to construct the networks, either on traditional solid substrates such as oxidised silicon wafers or in more novel ways involving 2D film assembly at liquid-liquid interfaces.

Through intelligent design of structure and the incorporation of reconfigurable chemical and/or physical interactions we are aiming to influence (‘direct’) structure through chemical or physical interactions, electrical potentials or magnetic fields.


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We receive funding for our research from many sources both here in the UK and Europe.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the organisations listed on the page below.