The RPI researchers are also working with scientists who used nanotubes as adhesives, mimicking the structures that allow geckos to cling to walls. The extremely high surface area of the nanotubes creates enough friction to hold two surfaces together. One possibility that uses the flexible plastic is a souped-up version of Velcro.
The RPI work is part of a much larger research effort to combine nanotubes with polymers and other flexible materials. “Flexible nanotube-polymer films will find a large range of applications, not only for electronics, but also for sensing applications and even optical applications,” says Liming Dai, professor of materials engineering and chemistry at the University of Dayton in Ohio, who recently developed a chemical sensor using nanotubes embedded in plastic. “It’s an important area. Now is the time for people to push these things toward real applications.”
Home page image courtesy of Yung Joon Jung, Northeastern University, Boston MA. Caption: A sample of the plastic with embedded half-millimeter-wide dots of nanotubes.