Carbon nanotubes are wires of pure carbon with nanometer diameters and lengths of many microns. A single-walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) may be thought of as a single atomic layer thick sheet of graphite (called graphene) rolled into a seamless cylinder. Multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWNT) consist of several concentric nanotube shells.
Understanding the electronic properties of the graphene sheet helps to understand the electronic properties of carbon nanotubes. Graphene is a zero-gap semiconductor; for most directions in the graphene sheet, there is a bandgap, and electrons are not free to flow along those directions unless they are given extra energy. However, in certain special directions graphene is metallic, and electrons flow easily along those directions.
This property is not obvious in bulk graphite, since there is always a conducting metallic path which can connect any two points, and hence graphite conducts electricity. However, when graphene is rolled up to make the nanotube, a special direction is selected, the direction along the axis of the nanotube. Sometimes this is a metallic direction, and sometimes it is semiconducting, so some nanotubes are metals, and others are semiconductors. Since both metals and semiconductors can be made from the same all-carbon system, nanotubes are ideal candidates for molecular electronics technologies.
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