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Superacid-Surfactant Exchange: Enabling Nondestructive Dispersion of Full-Length Carbon Nanotubes in Water

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-08-09, 00:00 authored by Peng Wang, Mijin Kim, Zhiwei Peng, Chuan-Fu Sun, Jasper Mok, Anna Lieberman, YuHuang Wang
Attaining aqueous solutions of individual, long single-walled carbon nanotubes is a critical first step for harnessing the extraordinary properties of these materials. However, the widely used ultrasonication–ultracentrifugation approach and its variants inadvertently cut the nanotubes into short pieces. The process is also time-consuming and difficult to scale. Here we present an unexpectedly simple solution to this decade-old challenge by directly neutralizing a nanotube-chlorosulfonic acid solution in the presence of sodium deoxycholate. This straightforward superacid-surfactant exchange eliminates the need for both ultrasonication and ultracentrifugation altogether, allowing aqueous solutions of individual nanotubes to be prepared within minutes and preserving the full length of the nanotubes. We found that the average length of the processed nanotubes is more than 350% longer than sonicated controls, with a significant fraction approaching ∼9 μm, a length that is limited by only the raw material. The nondestructive nature is manifested by an extremely low density of defects, bright and homogeneous photoluminescence in the near-infrared, and ultrahigh electrical conductivity in transparent thin films (130 Ω/sq at 83% transmittance), which well exceeds that of indium tin oxide. Furthermore, we demonstrate that our method is fully compatible with established techniques for sorting nanotubes by their electronic structures and can also be readily applied to graphene. This surprisingly simple method thus enables nondestructive aqueous solution processing of high-quality carbon nanomaterials at large-scale and low-cost with the potential for a wide range of fundamental studies and applications, including, for example, transparent conductors, near-infrared imaging, and high-performance electronics.

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