Teslaphoresis: Tesla Coil Causes Self-Assembly In Carbon Nanotubes


This significant discovery in nanotechnology could also be the first practical use of a Tesla coil in modern times that goes beyond fun and education. A self-funded research team at Rice University has found that unordered heaps of carbon nanotubes will self-assemble into conductive wires when exposed to the electric field of a strong Tesla coil. The related paper by lead author and graduate student [Lindsey R. Bornhoeft], introduces the phenomenon as “Teslaphoresis”.

teslaphoresis_leds_1“I would have never thought, as a 14-year-old kid building coils, that it was going to be useful someday” says Rice University chemist [Paul Cherukuri], who redesigned the classic Tesla coil to produce a stronger, more directed force field and built the research prototype. The team also found that their idea of self-assembly could be extended to little LED circuits, which apparently harvest energy from the coil’s field to light up the LEDs.


Rendering of a single walled carbon nanotube – by Arnero

Carbon nanotubes are microscopic tube-like structures from carbon atoms. Because of their special mechanical and electrical properties, researchers are currently searching for practical applications thereof. In particular, carbon nanotubes can be semiconductors, metals and superconductors depending on their structure, but a scalable method of assembling them into practical circuits has yet to be found.

Further studies will have to prove or disprove how and to what extent the described self-assembly process can actually be controlled or is applicable, but the recent demonstration certainly gives you a taste of the potential of the discovery. We are curious to hear if any of our readers had ever tried something similar on their own coils – let us know in the comments!

Thanks to [Mechanicus] for the tip!

77 thoughts on “Teslaphoresis: Tesla Coil Causes Self-Assembly In Carbon Nanotubes

  1. Tesla coil = high frequency transformer, and it is used in every switching power supply now. The fact that the original application was transforming voltage up, while our PSUs switch down does not change that fact.

    1. Not quite, a tesla coil uses no ferite (which while still a transformer is different from the majority of SMPS transformers) it also has a resonant primary and secondary with the same or very similar resonant frequencies which is also very unusual in SMPS design.

  2. If you could fix the “wires” in place you could train a carbon nanotube circuit the same way that you train a neural network in a computer, except the weights would be encoded by the conductivity of individual wires or connections. Once this circuit is established it could become, under the right conditions, super conducting. One option for “fixing” the circuit would be high temperature annealing in an inert atmosphere. This annealing could be done with a laser so that it is selective allowing for some parts of the circuit to remain dynamic enough to form memristor like memory units.


        1. That is not relevant (to this thread), nor is it entirely true because the support can be removed and it could also depend on the type of support so it may not need to be removed.

        1. Just explain and you won’t appear like a jerk. It’s usually bad practice to assume misunderstanding is deliberate. Am I right the idea is to encode weights with conductivity only during the learning phase then make fixed and superconductive after whatever pattern you want has been learned?

          1. You gave a Google link. Far as I know, carbon nanotubes are not superconductors. If you’re saying they are, it would be very decent, highly considerate, and extremely polite of you to explain how that is the case. As is usual when one makes a surprising assertion.

          2. Actually, fool, read exactly what I did claim. Exactly. You will never get respect from me while you do not even bother to discuss with me what I what I actually wrote, rather than the tangled mess it became having passed through your memory.

          3. “Actually, fool, read exactly what I did claim. Exactly. You will never get respect from me while you do not even bother to discuss with me what I what I actually wrote, rather than the tangled mess it became having passed through your memory” Dan said and took a big gulp of water to calm himself while she tried to parse what he had scribbled on the restaurant napkin. Deep down he knew that the first date was not going well. His personality had gotten the better of him once again.

          4. Very specific conditions are required to make carbon nano-tubes superconductors. Those conditions don’t exist when the tubes are in a support matrix. Removal of the support matrix often contaminates the tubes and prevents them from being low resistance conductors.

          5. You forgot to mention how many different potential supports there are, which is relevant to the key point, having one that allows the desired results. Correct?

          6. After a whole glass and a refill of water Dan noticed she now had shifted focus from his napkin and was texting quickly. He violently clutched the phone and angrily eyed the little words on the display. “He is nuts! Call and give me an excuse to leave NOW pls!!”. Dan, out of his chair now, with eyes ablaze shrieked “The irony is that you wrote that having never succeeded in reproducing, right?”. She backed off from the table, shocked as his voice kept rising “RIGHT?!”, “RIIIGHT?!”. It was all down hill all the time for Dan from here on. If he had known just how long a distance that would take him then perhaps some fear might have seeped into the moment and modulated his voice. But no, it continued shrieking accusation against her, against bystanders. Against the world.

        1. Just explain and you won’t appear like a jerk. It’s usually bad practice to assume misunderstanding is deliberate.

          They asked a question because they did not find your original comment to be clear, no matter how ‘complete’ you think it is.

          1. So there is no point arguing with your observation? Not because it is valid, it actually is logically flawed, but because you are certain that that you are correct? But how certain are you now that you know there may be a logical flaw in your claim?

          1. I assume you are speaking from experience? So what has your Color, sexuality, sex, race, religion or disability got to do with this article’s subject?

          2. Of the Autism spectrum disorders, Aspergers would be the most likely. That would be autistic and a dick. They are often quite intelligent, but only in one field, and have poor people skills.

          3. Actually I dunno if the common perception of the ‘spergers is really true. I have a mate with it, and he’s a very popular, likeable bloke. His condition mostly comes out in him having trouble controlling his emotions.

            He’s been diagnosed by actual doctors, rather than Dr Internet, like so many you meet online. Usually they’re not actually autistic and really ARE just dicks.

            In any case, I think it’d be unfair to every decent autistic person, as well as letting off dicks too easily, to give them such a convenient label. So far I don’t think there’s been discovered a medical reason for being a complete bell-end. The psychiatrists, of course, might have a few suggestions.

    1. It makes no difference in this case what the material is, as long as it has some electrical conductivity. I was part of a research project that made Bismuth alloy nano-wires electrophoretically using bismuth alloy powder and either a high melting point wax or high temperature resin. The wax or resin was heated to above the melting point of the alloy, the electric field was turned on, the wax or resin cooled / cured, and then we ended up with bismuth alloy nano-wires.

      1. What? A molecule is a three dimensional structure… go up to the article and look at the picture with the description “Rendering of a single walled carbon nanotube – by Arnero” that is a molecule. I believe Scott_Tx would prefer it if all of the individual nanotubes would arrange themselves into a single long molecule which is still a three dimensional object, it’s just very small in two directions.

          1. They stick together with Van der Waals force (London dispersion force specifically), and are difficult to separate once they touch. But functionalization of the nano-tubes can prevent them from sticking together permanently, although the funtionalization has the effect of increasing the volume resistivity of the bulk nano-tubes.

  3. “We are the Borg”. Inject a new member with carbon nanotubes then hit him with a specially formed energy field. Hello, 7 of 32.

    A university student who says silicone chips? Only if someone, somehow uses silicone to make electronic devices.

    1. How about instant artificial mammory enhancement? Press a button and instant male attraction. ;)

      But seriously Galane… l see a potential DARPA grant here… instant aramid fiber-like electronic reaction. Or Active-Armor? But not as light as spider webs huh?

    2. I wonder if, by modulating the field strength, you could cause the tubes to assemble into a particular structure? Perhaps with electrodes over a flat area, to control the field finely. Or even in a 3D space. Might be something better done with no (apparent) gravity, as research in orbit. Perhaps by giving the growing carbon structure an electric charge, you could also use magnetism to steer the particles.

      1. @Greenaum – Or how about this (Q-Branch worthy?): Put the CN granules into a long stretch of fine tubing the outer diameter of yarn. Weave it into several layers of lattice work of a form fitting vest or short-coat. Then using a portable Tesla coil; expose lattice to HV. The sparking would be contained in the special yarn tubes (or just explode?). Imagine a on-demand ballistic shield of sorts. Of course it needs tonnes of lab work (i.e. R&D). We need Major Boothroyd on this one Greenie! :-)

        BTW – Glad to see you’re row is over with… beginning to think this was YouTube or Reddit…

        @Dan – Since you dropped your trailing “5” are you still a PRIME NUMBER? Inquiring minds and all that rot… ;-)

        1. @Greenaum – Here is a list of those great Q-Branch gadgets https://youtu.be/yGCGWb6nt_c – At time-stamp 06:05 is a brief snippet for a perfect practical application for TESLAPHORESIS. Magicians the world wide have been looking for just such a trick. And since the real trick was perfected in India centuries ago maybe by jugglers mentioned by Adi Shankara in 9th century AD. This time the trick can be real.

  4. Idea time. Carbon nano tubes that self assemble could be used to build whiskers that connect small integrated circuits to a regular pcb. Think about those ccd chips that have fine wires. Imagine you sprinkle carbon nano tubes and hit it with an electric field, suddenly your joints are formed. Not sure how well it would work but it seems like it could be worth investigating.

        1. Yes, they stick together with Van der Waals force (London dispersion force specifically), and are difficult to separate once they touch. But they can be separated if force is applied.

  5. And again, a paper behind A FUCKING PAYWALL???

    What is this? Science or ‘fuck you and give me all your money’ shit?

    I’m so done with this idiocracy of “you only are someone if you have a substantial amount of papers published” in combination with those paywalls … Go fuck yourself, science community. Seriously: That’s neither fun nor does it do the publishers or the spirit of science any good! :/

    1. Not only that, consider that most of the research whose papers are paywalled got some of its funding from our taxes, and the way academic publishing works, the researchers generally have to pay the publisher for the privilege of being published!

    2. @einball – Yes frustrating indeed. But either go your local library website and see if they have a paywall subscription online for registered library card holders. If they don’t the librarian may do it if you indicate how important it is for the general community. College libraries will definitely do it to stay up to date and informed.

      My trick is this: Go to the PAYWALL abstract text (the free stuff). Copy and paste the first (or any) sentence in quotes into a GOOGLE search box. Filter out the results like the original paywall site. Look for it being posted in someone’s blog, or forum posting, or scientific papers on Google Scholar. Sometimes I get lucky and get the FULL transcript.Sometimes the author(s) re-post the entire transcript on their own blogs as they are so proud of their own work.

      1. @Bob Cole – Son of a Gun! Leave it to the Russians to figure out a way around a frickin’ paywall!!!

        @einball – Here you go… the TESLAPHORESIS paper with all 32 pages: http://sci-hub.io/http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsnano.6b02313

        Evidently you use this IO site as a backdoor to to any scholarly website’s papers via it’s DOI number. Somehow it exploits the Google Scholar website in Russia??? Any theories? WAG’s are OK too. :)

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