"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including biological and structural health monitoring sensors," explained Sameh Tawfick, an assistant professor of mechanical science and engineering at Illinois. "Aligned carbon nanotube sheets are suitable for a wide range of application spanning the micro- to the macro-scales including Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS), supercapacitor electrodes, electrical cables, artificial muscles, and multi-functional composites.
"To our knowledge, this is the first study to apply the principles of fracture mechanics to design and study the toughness nano-architectured CNT textiles. The theoretical framework of fracture mechanics is shown to be very robust for a variety of linear and non-linear materials."
Carbon nanotubes, which have been around since the early nineties, have been hailed as a "wonder material" for numerous nanotechnology applications, and rightly so. These tiny cylindrical structures made from wrapped graphene sheets have diameter of a few nanometers -- about 1000 times thinner than a human hair, yet, a single carbon nanotube is stronger than steel and carbon fibers, more conductive than copper, and lighter than aluminum.
However, it has proven really difficult to construct materials, such as fabrics or films that demonstrate these properties on centimeter or meter scales. The challenge stems from the difficulty of assembling and weaving CNTs since they are so small, and their geometry is very hard to control.