Carbon nanotubes have been made to assemble themselves into wires, using a Tesla coil, researchers report. This new technique could have a wide range of potential applications.

Teslaphoresis, as the process is known, aligns and electrifies targets from a distance. The signal from the coil drives nanotubes to self-assemble, forming long wires, researchers discovered. Cycling positive and negative charges in the nanotubes cause a tractor beam-like effect on the tiny carbon cylinders.

Nikola Tesla, an inventor who worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, created the coil in 1891 as a means of delivering electricity through the air. At the time, he was unaware of the ability of the device to draw materials toward it, like a tractor beam. That effect has never before been seen acting on such a large scale.

"Electric fields have been used to move small objects, but only over ultrashort distances. With Teslaphoresis, we have the ability to massively scale up force fields to move matter remotely," Paul Cherukuri of Rice University said.

In one trial of the process, nanotubes spontaneously formed into wires, connecting a pair of LEDs. The assemblage was then able to absorb energy from the coil sitting across the room, lighting the diodes. Current technology only allows coils to have its desired effect for a couple of feet. New research could examine how multiple units could affect nanoscale materials.

This new study was self-funded, and run with the assistance of volunteers. This made the research far more affordable than working through traditional channels.

Nikola Tesla, a driven rival to Thomas Edison, is best known for the development of alternating current, a technique used today to transmit electricity over long distances. The inventor was also the first to invent the induction motor.

Carbon nanotubes, like those used in this new study, may be utilized in a new generation of spacecraft. These tiny cylinders can be arranged to produce the darkest fabric in the world, or to manufacture a material stronger and lighter than Kevlar. Now, using a Tesla coil, it is possible to manipulate these tubes without ever coming into contact with the tiny structures.

Development of the new technique to create nanotube wires was detailed in the journal ACS Nano.

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