Capillography (from the Latin capillus, “hair”, and the Greek graphein, “to write”) is a recently conceived technique for forming mats of nanofibers into useful patterns. The concept was inspired by experiments on carpet-like mats of multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Capillography may have the potential to be a less-expensive, less-time-consuming alternative to electron-beam lithography as a means of nanoscale patterning for the fabrication of small devices and instruments.

These Scanning Electron Micrographs show representative patterns formed in mats of multi-walled carbon nanotubes that were wetted with a surfactant solution and then dried.

In capillography, one exploits the lateral capillary forces exerted on small objects that pierce the surface of a liquid. If the small objects are identical, then the forces are always attractive. Two examples of the effects of such forces are the agglomeration of small particles floating on the surface of a pond and the drawing together of hairs of a wet paintbrush upon removal of the brush from water. Because nanoscale objects brought into contact remain stuck together indefinitely due to Van der Waals forces, patterns formed by capillography remain even upon removal of the liquid.

For the experiments on the mats of carbon nanotubes, a surfactant solution capable of wetting carbon nanotubes (which are ultra- hydrophobic) was prepared. The mats were wetted with the solution, then dried. Once the mats were dry, it was found that the nanotubes had become ordered into various patterns, including nestlike indentations, trenches, and various combinations thereof (see figure).

It may be possible to exploit such ordering effects through controlled wetting and drying of designated portions of mats of carbon nanotubes (and, perhaps, mats of nanofibers of other materials) to obtain patterns similar to those heretofore formed by use of electron-beam lithography. For making patterns that include nestlike indentations, it has been conjectured that it could be possible to control the nesting processes by use of electrostatic fields. Further research is needed to understand the physics of the patterning processes in order to develop capabilities to control patterns formed in capillography.

This work was done by Flavio Noca, Elijah Sansom, Jijie Zhou, and Mory Gharib of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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Refer to NPO-40980, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

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Capillography of Mats of Nanofibers

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This article first appeared in the September, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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