The Discovery of Carbon Nanotubes
In 1991, At the age of 52, Sumio Iijima was working on his device until midnight.
The device, known as a transmission electron microscope, is nearly three meters tall, huge and complex, and by accelerating electrons to extremely high speeds through extremely thin samples, it projects the microscopic structure of the sample onto the negative below. That leaves an atomic picture of matter.
To keep this "atomic camera" working, 200,000 volts must be applied to it. It's not just two “Pikachu”, it's real scary electricity. Even in Japan, at the height of its economic boom in the late 20th century, there were only a handful of such sophisticated equipment.
After graduating from Tohoku University in Japan, the shy science and engineering PhD began working with TEM and has been working very hard in the micro world for 25 years. In general, Iijima is a hard-working and diligent person, and has achieved good results in the observation of gold atoms and other aspects.
However, at this time, Iijima is a "unlucky person", exactly how unlucky? In short, he is a man who "missed the Nobel Prize".
Let's move on to 1985.Harold Kroto of the United Kingdom and Richard Smalley of the United States, writing in the prestigious international journal Nature, reported preparing a carbon "pellet" consisting of 60 carbon atoms. They thought the structure was similar to the work of architect Buckminster Fuller, so they named it Buckminster Fullerene, or fullerene for short.
The discovery of fullerenes caused an immediate uproar in the academic world. Previously, the only allotrophs for carbon were graphite, diamond, and amorphous carbon (such as carbon black and carbon), and fullerenes became the fourth form of carbon. What's more, fullerenes are perfectly spherical. Thanks to this, this carbon "pellet" exhibits many unique chemical and physical properties and has great potential for application.
Marveling at the beauty and wonder of fullerenes, people constantly say that their contributions deserve a Nobel Medal. Indeed, in 1996, Crotto and Smalley Shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
But when Iijima got Krotto and Smory's paper, mixed feelings bubbled up. Because, he has already observed this "carbon ball"!
As early as five years ago in 1980, Iijima saw a "concentric circle" structure to carbon through TEM. According to his description, the structure is like "an onion cut open." But because TEM could only observe a planar projection of the microstructure, he did not realize that it might be a sphere. It wasn't until he saw the fullerenes paper that he realized he was looking at several layers of nested fullerenes!
The field of science is so brutal, you never know what you're missing.
After missing out on fullerenes, Iijima didn't lose heart and continued to observe TEM day after day. Fortune is good to him that works hard. Now another opportunity came quietly.
On that day in January 1991, Iijima treated some carbon with a high-pressure arc and tried to see the nanostructures of the samples. At that moment, some familiar structures appeared in his sight. This time, however, instead of a sliced onion, a "hollow" tube appeared.
Having missed out on fullerenes, Iijima won't make the mistake of thinking of a solid as a plane this time. He immediately abstracted the two-dimensional picture into three-dimensional space and deduced that he had found the hollow tube structure of carbon. Later, Iijima immediately carried out further investigation of the structure, including the diameter of the tube, the atomic composition of the tube layer, and the growth principle of the tube structure, etc.
After 10 months of painstaking research, Iijima published his results on November 7, showing the world the material -- carbon nanotubes! Mijima has become the father of carbon nanotubes.
Like fullerenes, carbon nanotubes are the new darling of academia. Scientists around the world are starting to do research to show us more of its wonders. Of particular interest is the electrical properties of carbon nanotubes.