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Why do nanotubes grow chiral?

A question no more...

Carbon nanotubes hold enormous technological promise. It can only be harnessed if one controls their chirality, the feature of the tubular ​carbon topology that governs all the properties of nanotubes—electronic, optical, mechanical. Experiments in catalytic growth over the last decade have repeatedly revealed a puzzling strong preference towards minimally chiral (near-armchair) tubes, challenging any existing hypotheses and making chirality control ever more tantalizing, yet leaving its understanding elusive.

In a just-published article in Nature Communications, we combine the nanotube/catalyst interface thermodynamics with the kinetic growth theory to show that the unusual near-armchair peaks emerge from the two antagonistic trends at the interface: energetic preference towards achiral versus the faster growth kinetics of chiral nanotubes. This narrow distribution is inherently related to the peaked behaviour of a simple function, xe−x.

The image illustrates a very specific feature of the minimally chiral tubes: they can tilt off the vertical! And when it comes to tilting, or perhaps leaning, there is nothing more iconic than the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

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