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DOI: 10.1038/354056a0
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Helical microtubules of graphitic carbon

Sumio Iijima

    Cite this:
Iijima, S. (1991). Helical microtubules of graphitic carbon. Nature, 354(6348), 56.
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THE synthesis of molecular carbon structures in the form of C60 and other fullerenes1 has stimulated intense interest in the structures accessible to graphitic carbon sheets. Here I report the preparation of a new type of finite carbon structure consisting of needle-like tubes. Produced using an arc-discharge evaporation method similar to that used for fullerene synthesis, the needles grow at the negative end of the electrode used for the arc discharge. Electron microscopy reveals that each needle comprises coaxial tubes of graphitic sheets, ranging in number from 2 up to about 50. On each tube the carbon-atom hexagons are arranged in a helical fashion about the needle axis. The helical pitch varies from needle to needle and from tube to tube within a single needle. It appears that this helical structure may aid the growth process. The formation of these needles, ranging from a few to a few tens of nanometres in diameter, suggests that engineering of carbon structures should be possible on scales considerably greater than those relevant to the fullerenes. On 7 November 1991, Sumio Iijima announced in Nature the preparation of nanometre-size, needle-like tubes of carbon — now familiar as 'nanotubes'. Used in microelectronic circuitry and microscopy, and as a tool to test quantum mechanics and model biological systems, nanotubes seem to have unlimited potential.