Boron nitride nanotubes are primed to become effective building blocks for next-generation composites and polymer materials based on two discoveries at Rice University. Scientists at Rice have found a way to enhance a unique class of nanotubes using a chemical process pioneered at the university. The Rice lab of chemist Angel Martí took advantage of the Billups-Birch reaction process to enhance boron nitride nanotubes. The work is described in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Nano Materials.
Boron nitride nanotubes, like their carbon cousins, are rolled sheets of hexagonal arrays. Unlike carbon nanotubes, however, boron nitride nanotubes are electrically insulating hybrids made of alternating boron and nitrogen atoms. Insulating nanotubes that can be functionalized will be a valuable building block for nano-engineering projects, according to Martí. “Carbon nanotubes have outstanding properties, but you can only get them in semiconducting or metallic conducting types,” he said. “Boron nitride nanotubes are complementary materials that can fill that gap.”