Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are allotropes of carbowith a nanostructure that can have a length-to-diameter ratio greater than 1,000,000. These cylindrical carbonmolecules have novel properties that make them potentially useful in many applications in nanotechnology, electronics, optics and other fields of materials science, as well as extensive use in arcology and architectural fields. They exhibit extraordinary strength and unique electrical properties, and are efficient conductors of heat. Inorganic nanotubes have also been synthesized.
Nanotubes are members of the fullerene structural family, which also includes the spherical buckyballs. The cylindrical nanotube usually has at least one end capped with a hemisphere of the buckyball structure. Their name is derived from their size, since the diameter of a nanotube is in the order of a few nanometers (approximately 1/50,000th of the width of a human hair), while they can be up to several millimeters in length (as of 2008). Nanotubes are categorized as single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) and multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs).
The nature of the bonding of a nanotube is described by applied quantum chemistry, specifically, orbital hybridization. The chemical bonding of nanotubes is composed entirely of sp2 bonds, similar to those of graphite. This bonding structure, which is stronger than the sp3 bonds found in diamond, provides the molecules with their unique strength. Nanotubes naturally align themselves into “ropes” held together by Van der Waals forces. Under high pressure, nanotubes can merge together, trading some sp² bonds for sp³ bonds, giving the possibility of producing strong, unlimited-length wires through high-pressure nanotube linking.