Tiny, spiral-shaped carbon tubes and fibres could give way to new kinds of components for nanoscale electronics, say researchers who are studying what has been dubbed "nanoscale spiral pasta" in the hope of developing nanoscale switching and memory storage devices.
The spiral components are expected to some day outperform conventional silicon technologies on a number of levels, such as power consumption, radiation hardness, and heat dissipation.
According to Prab Bandaru, who has recently been awarded a five-year, $US400,000 National Science Fondation grant for his work on non-linear nanotubes, the spiral form could facilitate the creation of nanoscale inductors, which are very difficult to fabricate using conventional structures.
"Spiral nanotubes and nanocoils could be pertinent for new types of electronic architecture," said Bandaru, an Assistant Professor of Material Science at the University of California, San Diego.
"For example, it was suggested that a coil could correspond to a sequence of junctions with alternating metallic and semiconducting character, adding to the possibility of novel behaviour in nonlinear nanostructures."
Bandaru and his colleagues are currently investigating nanotube growth mechanisms, defects, nanoscale electrical conduction mechanisms and device modelling. They are also exploring both the layout of electrical and optoelectronic circuits, and the limits of device operation through high frequency measurements.
"Because nanotubes are so small, you need to work at the atomic level to understand and manipulate them," said Bandaru, explaining that the presence or absence of single carbon atoms at strategic locations within nanotubes determines whether they have a linear or spiral shape.
While he hopes to soon see real world applications for spiral nanoelectronics, Bandaru noted that there are still some difficulties in fabricating and arranging spiral nanoscale components, which he said would be necessary for making commercial electronics devices.
"The biggest hurdle is with the controlled, large scale assembly of nanotube-based structures," he said. "However, a lot of smart people are working on this."