Resolving strain in carbon nanotubes at the atomic level


Details of how atomic structure responds to strain are essential for building a deeper picture of mechanics in nanomaterials. Here, we provide the first experimental evidence of atomic displacements associated with shear strain in single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) by direct imaging using aberration-corrected transmission electron microscopy. The atomic structure of a zig-zag SWNT is resolved with unprecedented accuracy and the strain induced by bending is mapped in two dimensions. We show the existence of a dominant non-uniform shear strain that varies along the SWNT axis. The direction of shear is opposite to what would be expected from a simple force applied perpendicular to the axis to produce the bending. This highlights the complex atomistic strain behaviour of beam-bending mechanics in highly anisotropic SWNTs.

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Figure 1: Low-voltage AC-HRTEM images of SWNTs.
Figure 2: Obtaining a 2D displacement map of a (28,0) SWNT.
Figure 3: X and Y components of the 2D displacement map and the 2D gradient maps.
Figure 4: Atomic model representations of several relevant key strain types applied to a (28,0) SWNT.


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J.H.W. thanks the Royal Society and the Glasstone Fund for support. We thank Meijo Nanocarbon for their generous supply of SWNTs.

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J.H.W. designed and conducted the experiments, analysed the results and wrote the paper. N.P.Y. and A.I.K. assisted with the HRTEM. G.A.D.B. assisted with the analysis of the results.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jamie H. Warner.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Warner, J., Young, N., Kirkland, A. et al. Resolving strain in carbon nanotubes at the atomic level. Nature Mater 10, 958–962 (2011).

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