Undergrad’s Award Funds Nanotech Discovery
Student Researcher Improves Method of Gauging Carbon Nanotube Purity
Apr. 22, 2011
UT Dallas undergraduate student Nancy S. Jacobsen has had an article published in the journal Carbon with the help of funding from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Undergraduate Research Program.
The research helped develop an improved procedure for evaluating the purity of carbon nanotubes, which have the potential to revolutionize various applications ranging from electronics and fuel cells to super-strong materials used for body armor. They even have potential in biomedical engineering as a delivery device for disease-fighting therapies.
“Carbon nanotube samples are analytically challenging because all the current manufacturing processes introduce carbonaceous impurities, which are difficult to quantify in the presence of the carbon nanotubes,” said Dr. Paul Pantano, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and senior author on the paper.
Regardless of applications, the builders of this technology need to know the levels of carbon nanotubes in the base material and the amount of impurities.
“It’s like baking a cake using a cup of flour and not knowing if a quarter of the cup contained salt,” said Jacobsen, lead author of the paper. “Like baking, nanotechnologists need assurance that their cup of CNTs contains no unwanted components.”
The UT Dallas method uses an ultraviolet-visible (UV-Vis) spectrometer – an instrument common to almost all laboratories – to measure the electromagnetic radiation absorbed by the carbon impurities and carbon nanotubes. Next, the contribution associated with the impurities is subtracted, which leads to a more accurate measurement of the amount of carbon nanotubes in the sample.
“We showed that the calculated percentages of some carbon nanotubes were underestimated by up to 6 percent,” Jacobsen said.
Pantano said Jacobsen’s work would not have been possible without the help of the NSM program, which assists students in such research endeavors.
“Not only is Nancy the first author of this publication, she is the sole student author as well – an honor for any student, graduate or undergraduate, and a testament to the semesters of work and thought that she put into her senior research project,” Pantano said. “I am also impressed that she continues to work in the lab because she is motivated to bring research experiences to the classroom as a future high school science teacher.”
NSM’s Undergraduate Research Program is in its seventh year and has awarded a total of $315,000 for undergraduate research work.
“The School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics actively supports the participation of its undergraduate students in research. Because it is a research university, UT Dallas provides the opportunity for students such as Nancy Jacobsen to carry their research experience from the laboratory to publication in the open scientific literature,” said Dr. Myron Salamon, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “This is the first step in the launching of a career in science.”