A broad-range vacuum gauge has been created by suspending a single-walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) (metallic or semiconducting) in a Schottky diode format or in a bridge conductor format, between two electrically charged mesas. SWNTs are highly sensitive to molecular collisions because of their extremely small diameters in the range of 1 to 3 nanometers. The measurement parameter will be the change in conductivity of SWNT due to decreasing rate of molecular collisions as the pressure inside a chamber decreases.

The rate of heat removal approaches a saturation limit as the mean free path (m.f.p.) lengths of molecules increase due to decreasing pressure. Only those sensing elements that have a long relaxation time can produce a measureable response when m.f.p. of molecules increases (or time between two consecutive collisions increases). A suspended SWNT offers such a capability because of its one-dimensional nature and ultra-small diameter. In the initial approach, similar architecture was used as that of a SWNT-Schottky diode that has been developed at JPL, and has its changing conductivity measured as the test chamber is pumped down from atmospheric pressure to high vacuum (10–7 Torr). Continuous response of decreasing conductivity has been measured as a function of decreasing pressure (SWNT is a negative thermal coefficient material) from atmosphere to <10–6 Torr. A measureable current change in the hundreds of nA range has been recorded in the 10–6 Torr regime.

This work was done by Harish Manohara and Anupama B. Kaul of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management
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Refer to NPO-45383.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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