SCI-TECH & AGRI

Valuable spin-offs from carbon nanotube research

Sophisticated computerisation:The measurements can be done in a fully programmable and controlled manner.— photo: special arrangement.

Sophisticated computerisation:The measurements can be done in a fully programmable and controlled manner.— photo: special arrangement.  

Irrespective of its goal, a scientific research project may sometimes throw up gifts for the researcher that are worth being showcased as well. This is what has happened in the case of Piyush Jagtap, research scholar at Indian Institute of Science’s (IISc) Department of Materials Engineering, who found not one, but two such gifts. One, the invention of a device to measure changes in material property as it moves through an electric field and two, the discovery that carbon nanotube foam can form an effective smart shock absorber in devices such as cell phones.

Guided by his thesis adviser, Dr. Praveen Kumar, Piyush’s research into the properties of carbon nanotubules in an electric field led him to build up, from scratch, an instrument to study the properties of small objects moving in an electric field and also develop the methodology to analyse the measurements.

With the sophisticated computerisation of the instrument, the measurements can be done in a fully programmable and controlled manner. For instance, they can study what happens when the electric field is increased in a pre-programmed way or is switched off while loading and switched on while unloading, or any complicated sequence that is desired. Before they built up this device, there existed no other way of executing this task.

Second spin-off

One of the first things the researchers did was to study the mechanical properties of carbon nanotube foam. They found that the shock-absorbent properties of this material actually get enhanced when it is subjected to an electric field. “If subjected to an electric field of 2 volt per millimetre length of the material, its shock-absorbent properties are enhanced six to seven times,” says Dr. Praveen Kumar. This is good news, for it conveys that carbon nanotube foam would make a good inclusion in mobile phones and such small devices as a shock absorber — smart shock absorber is the word for it. Such shock absorbers become particularly relevant and important as the electronics inside mobile devices such as phones and tablets are becoming increasingly fragile with miniaturisation and increasing current density (electric current per unit area).

The duo is the first to have studied this behaviour, especially because such a device for measuring the effect of a field on a small moving item never existed earlier.

“Developing the instrument took us about four to five months, but we had spent more than a year thinking about the larger problem — the mechanical behaviour of the response of carbon nanotubes in an electric field,” says Dr. Kumar, adding that this work will further pave the way to exploration and collaborations to study different materials.



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