Smaller, faster, stronger: NSF grant to help UCCS researcher develop the electronics of the future

Kevin Tvrdy is an associate professor of chemistry & biochemistry at UCCS.

Each year, consumers demand more from their electronic devices – smaller sizes, faster processing and better performance. As engineers scramble to meet these demands with standard silicon-based transistors, another school of thought has emerged: using carbon nanotubes.

The cylindrical molecules that make up carbon nanotubes look like rolled-up tubes of chicken wire under a microscope. Strong, flexible, lightweight, thermally conductive and chemically stable, nanotubes are useful for a wide range of electronic and biomedical purposes.

Indeed, they may represent the future of electronic devices. But it’s deceptively difficult to grow nanotubes pure enough for research, not to mention real-world applications. During the growth process, many different types of carbon nanotubes are produced, necessitating purification that has remained elusive for these otherwise promising materials.

Now, a $250,000 National Science Foundation grant will allow Kevin Tvrdy, associate professor of chemistry & biochemistry at UCCS, to advance the process of creating and purifying these molecules for the benefit of nanoscience worldwide.

Tvrdy’s proposal, titled “Synthesis and Characterization of Novel Hydrogel Formulations for the Single Chirality Purification of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes,” has a specific focus: creating hydrogels tailored for the purification of nanotubes, thereby helping to allow the scientific community to research and apply nanotubes at scale.

“The advancement of carbon nanotube purification stands to enable the development of next-generation devices and schemes that take full advantage of nanotube properties,” Tvrdy said. “Some examples include the fabrication of ultrasmall carbon-based electronics, solar cells capable of harvesting the infrared region of the spectrum, and imaging schemes capable of simultaneously sensing and mapping with nanoscale precision.”

An illustration of a single walled carbon nanotube. Photo credit: Promotive/Dreamstime

In other words, the future of phones, wearable electronics, solar cells, biomedical devices and more could rest on the carbon nanotube purification schemes under development by researchers and developers like Tvrdy.

Tvrdy and his research team, consisting of graduate and undergraduate students, will work to devise different formulations of hydrogel that target specific properties within carbon nanotubes. By developing both high- and low-cost formulations of the gel, their hope is to expand the number of pure, single-walled carbon nanotube species available to the scientific community for research and applied use.

They will publicly report their research progress within the Colorado Springs Science on Tap lecture series and results from this work will be integrated into Tvrdy’s nanoscience.

And perhaps, in the near future, we will have Tvrdy and his team to thank for electronic devices that are smaller, faster and stronger than we ever imagined.

Kevin Tvrdy is an associate professor of chemistry & biochemistry within the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at UCCS. His research interests lie in the synthesis, purification and characterization of low dimensional materials and their use in novel devices. Of particular interest are the optical and electronic properties of single walled carbon nanotubes and semiconducting quantum dots. Learn more about Tvrdy and the Tvrdy Lab at UCCS online.