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Free fall plasma-arc reactor for synthesis of carbon nanotubes in microgravity

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Abstract

High temperatures inside the plasma of a carbon arc generate strong buoyancy driven convection which has an effect on the growth and morphology of the single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs). To study the effect of buoyancy on the arc process, a miniature carbon arc apparatus was designed and developed to synthesize SWNTs in a microgravity environment substantially free from buoyant convective flows. An arc reactor was operated in the 2.2 and 5.18 s drop towers at the NASA Glenn Research Center. The apparatus employed a 4 mm diameter anode and was powered by a portable battery pack capable of providing in excess of 300 A at 30 V to the arc for the duration of a 5 s drop. However, the principal result is that no dramatic difference in sample yield or composition was noted between normal gravity and 2.2 and 5 s long microgravity runs. Much longer duration microgravity time is required for SWNT’s growth such as the zero-G aircraft, but more likely will need to be performed on the international space station or an orbiting spacecraft.
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