A Brief Discussion on Fullerene, Carbon Nanotube, and Peapod Synthesis

P. E. Gharagozloo
March 5, 2007

(Submitted as coursework for AP272, Stanford University, Winter 2007)

Figure 1: SEM images of (a) correctly and (b) incorrectly synthesized carbon nanotubes.

Nanoparticles, particles with dimensions less than 100 nm, have been studied and produced for many different applications including polishing, fluid thermal conductivity enhancement, impingement cooling enhancement, and thermal interface material enhancement. Thus, many types of nanoparticles have emerged including carbon nanotubes and fullerene. Various techniques have been developed to produce these particles.


Fullerene occurs naturally and can even be found in everyday candle soot. However, to create a purified fullerene a laboratory environment is necessary. Buckminsterfullerene (Buckyball) is a form of fullerene in a soccer ball pattern about 0.7 nm in diameter with 60 carbon atoms bonded into hexagonal and pentagonal shapes like with a traditional soccer ball. The most well known method used to create Buckminsterfullerene is the carbon-arc method and was the method used at Sussex University during the initial investigations and discovery. In this method a large amount of current is sent through two barely touching carbon rods for about 10 seconds creating a plasma arc between them. The rods are contained in a chamber filled with an inert gas (such as helium or argon). During this period, a sooty material is formed within the container. At the ideal temperature and gas pressure around 10 percent of this soot is C60 and another one percent is C70.

To test for the Buckminsterfullerene an infrared absorption spectrum is measured, due to Buckminsterfullerene’s unique icosohedral symmetry, it has only 4 IR absorptions at approximately 7.00 μm, 8.45 μm, 17.33 μm, and 18.94 μm [1] making it easy to identify. First the fullerenes need to be purified by the use of chromatography, which is a separation method used to separate components in a mixture.

Fullerenes have also been produced in other ways. In an effort to reduce the production cost, solar production has been studied to utilize sunlight to vaporize the graphite. Another method studied to produce a specific type of fullerene that does not need to be separated is the pyrolysis of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are believed to be precursors of fullerenes.

Carbon Nanotubes

Nanotubes have also been synthesized in other materials including boron nitride and silicon, however, carbon nanotubes are by far the most popular due to the wide variety of possible applications being researched. Like fullerene, carbon nanotubes occur naturally and can be found in soot when methane, ethylene, or benzene is burned. However, to produce more consistent sized and shaped nanotubes a laboratory environment is necessary. Multiple methods exist for growing carbon nanotubes and the use of various methods depends on the application of the nanotubes being grown.

Multiple applications of nanotubes require a good thermal or electrical bond to the surface, for example, to measure the thermal or electrical properties of a nanotube. For these applications, chemical vapor deposition utilizing a catalyst is the primary technique since the nanotubes are grown on the surface of interest. Chemical vapor deposition also allows for excellent alignment, position and size control of the nanotubes.

Chemical vapor deposition begins with a substrate that is coated with a layer of metal catalyst particles typically by sputtering a transition metal and either etching or thermally annealing to create particles for the nanotubes to grow from or from a patterned deposition of the metal. The sizes of these particles are directly related to the diameter of the nanotubes grown. The substrate is then heated to between 650 and 900 oC and immersed in two gases, one that facilitates the process like hydrogen or nitrogen and another that contains carbon like methane, acetylene, or carbon monoxide. The gas with carbon is broken down at the catalyst particles allowing the nanotubes to grow at these sights. Through the application of an electric field the nanotubes can be aligned into an array of parallel nanotubes.

Chemical vapor deposition can also be used for bulk growth of nanotubes by adding more catalyst. These can then be removed from the surface to be free particles. This has proven to be one of the more efficient methods of creating bulk amounts of consistently sized nanotubes. However, other methods including arc discharge similar to that used to create fullerene and laser ablation of a graphite target in at high temperature in an environment similar to the arc discharge method are also used to produce the carbon nanotubes.

The best technique to view the carbon nanotubes currently is an electron microscope. Scanning electron microscope images of failed carbon nanotube production and actual carbon nanotubes produced are shown in Figure 1a and 1b respectively.

Fullerene in Carbon Nanotubes

Recently, new studies have been done on the synthesis of buckminsterfullerene spheres inside carbon nanotubes, which have been nicknamed peapods. These peapods are of particular interest for electronics and thermal application and their properties are currently being studied. Various methods have been developed to produce the peapods, which are all very similar.

Figure 2: TEM image of peapod fullerene in nanotube [2].

One particular method grows single walled nanotubes on a silicon substrate using a chemical vapor deposition method similar to the one described above and the cap at the end of the nanotube was opened. The end caps of nanotubes are often opened using a H2O2 reflux followed by HCl oxidation or by annealing in a mixture of N2 and O2. To insert the fullerenes into the nanotubes by what is called a vapor phase method [2]. This consists of immersing the substrate with the nanotubes in a sealed glass chamber filled with vapor containing the fullerene molecules heated to 500 oC [3]. This allows the fullerene to move around through Brownian motion within the chamber and after a given period of time enter in the nanotube. Once in the nanotube, the fullerene is restricted in its motion and cannot escape. After a period of time the fullerene fills up the nanotubes yielding a peapod as shown in the TEM image in Figure 2 [2].

© 2007 P. E. Gharagozloo. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] W. Kratschmer, K. Fostiropoulos, D. R. Huffman, "The infrared and ultraviolet absorption spectra of laboratory-produced carbon dust: evidence for the presence of the C60 molecule," Chemical Physics Letters 170, 167 (1990).

[2] Y. Ohno et al., "Synthesis of Carbon Nanotube Peapods Directly on Si Substrates," Appl. Phys. Lett. 86, 023109-1 (2005).

[3] K. Hirahara et al., "One-dimensional metallofullerene crystal generated inside single-walled carbon nanotubes," Phys. Rev. Lett. 85, 5384 (2000).