Graphite consists of layered carbon atoms. A metal particle bores into
the graphite sample from the edges of these layers. (Credit: KIT/CFN)

Nanoparticles Digging the World’s Smallest Tunnels

Jan. 23, 2013 — The world’s smallest tunnels have a width of a few nanometers only. Researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Rice University, USA, have dug such tunnels into graphite samples. This will allow structuring of the interior of materials through self-organization in the nanometer range and tailoring of nanoporous graphite for applications in medicine and battery technology.

Results are now presented in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

The tunnels are manufactured applying nickel nanoparticles to graphite which then is heated in the presence of hydrogen gas. The surface of the metal particles, that measure a few nanometers only, serves as a catalyst removing the carbon atoms of the graphite and converting them by means of hydrogen into the gas methane. Through capillary forces, the nickel particle is drawn into the “hole” that forms and bores through the material. The size of the tunnels obtained in the experiments was in the range of 1 to 50 nanometers, which about corresponds to one thousandth of the diameter of a human hair.

Read more: Nanoparticles digging the world's smallest tunnels — Science Daily.

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