Researchers discovered a method to integrate functional groups within boron nitride nanotubes, which can be used in composite and polymer materials, according to a study conducted on May 21, 2018.
This study was conducted by the researchers at the Rice University. Scientists made use of the Billups-Birch reaction process to enhance boron nitride nanotubes. The rolled sheets with hexagonal arrays forms boron nitride nanotubes. It is not like carbon nanotubes, as they are electrically insulating hybrids made of alternating boron and nitrogen atoms.
The boron nitride nanotubes have always resisted functionalization and although the properties provide the nanotubes with strength and stability, it becomes difficult to modify it to be used in the production of advanced materials. However, researchers were able to give a negative charge to the nanotubes using the Billups-Birch reaction, which in turn led to functionalization of the nanotubes with other small molecules.
Angel Martí, chemist said, “Functionalizing the nanotubes modifies or tunes their properties. When they’re pristine they are dispersible in water, but once we attach these alkyl chains, they are extremely hydrophobic (water-avoiding). This allows us to tune the properties of the nanotubes and will make it easier to take the next step toward composites. For that, the materials need to be compatible.”
Once the phenomenon was discovered, Carlos de los Reyes, lead author spent months trying to reproduce it reliably and was successful at it. The process begins by adding pure ammonia gas to the nanotubes. Then, it is cooled to -70 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, a sea of electrons are created when it combines with lithium and when the lithium dissolves in the ammonia, it expels the electrons. The freed electrons quickly bind with the nanotubes and provide hooks for other molecules. Moreover, it was observed that this process is reversible.