A new way to make microstructured surfaces

By: Jennifer Rocha

MIT Researchers develop a method that can produce strong, lightweight materials with specific surface properties.

Story content courtesy of MIT News Office, US

A team of MIT researchers has created a new way of manufacturing microstructured surfaces that have novel three-dimensional textures. These surfaces, made by self-assembly of carbon nanotubes, could exhibit a variety of useful properties — including controllable mechanical stiffness and strength, or the ability to repel water in a certain direction.

“We have demonstrated that mechanical forces can be used to direct nanostructures to form complex three-dimensional microstructures, and that we can independently control … the mechanical properties of the microstructures,” says A. John Hart, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the new technique.

The technique works by inducing carbon nanotubes to bend as they grow. The mechanism is analogous to the bending of a bimetallic strip, used as the control in old thermostats, as it warms: One material expands faster than another bonded to it.  But in this new process, the material bends as it is produced by a chemical reaction.

Along with Hart, the research team included Michael de Volder of Cambridge University; Sei Jin Park, a visiting doctoral student from the University of Michigan; and Sameh Tawfick, a former postdoc at MIT who is now at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The work was supported by the European Research Council, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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