See Inside April 2006

Crystal Steer

Sapphire plays supporting role for nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes would make ideal connecting wires in advanced circuits if not for the painstaking effort required to line up each tiny, sticky, floppy strand. Now scientists have found that crystalline sapphire can automatically help guide nanotubes into the patterns needed to build transistors and to make flexible electronics.

Electrical signals can flow more quickly through carbon nanotubes than through silicon, which in principle could lead to faster computers, explains Chongwu Zhou, an electrical engineer at the University of Southern California. Moreover, nanotubes can be as small as one-fifth the theoretical minimum size of conventional silicon circuitry.

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