Desirée Plata: Functionalization of CNTs with heteroatoms


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Markus Buehler of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and editor of the Impact section of MRS Bulletin interviews Desirée Plata, the Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT about her group’s development of new methods toward functionalization of carbon nanotubes with heteroatoms, which enables covalent attachment, opening up a world of potential materials structures. This research is relevant because common functionalization techniques for carbon nanotube materials (and other, similar nanostructures) are often hazardous, and have adverse environmental impacts, and lack precision. The research group evaluated an in situ functionalization technique utilizing oxygen-containing alkyne precursors, which offers a novel, more sustainable pathway for bottom-up engineering. Through a detailed assessment of the mechanisms by which nanotubes form, the researchers were able to direct new pathways toward bottom-up design of materials while considering sustainability, and especially environmental health, as a parameter during optimization and design. Their work is published in MRS Bulletin (

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