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Highlights in Chemical Technology

Chemical technology news from across RSC Publishing.

Exploiting nanotubes for electrochemical sensors

20 January 2010

Scientists in China have developed a versatile new carbon nanotube (CNT)-based composite material for electrochemical sensors that is cheap and easy to prepare. 

Carbon nanotubes are a popular material for electrochemical sensors thanks to their high electrical conductivity, mechanical strength, and chemical stability. Exploiting their properties, however, has remained a challenge. 

Now, Gang Chen and colleagues at Fudan University, China, have developed a versatile new CNT-based composite material for electrodes. Their CNT-poly(urea-formaldehyde) (PUF) composite material is fabricated by in situ condensation of a mixture of CNTs, urea and formaldehyde. The fabrication method is cheap and simple, and the resulting composite not only shows excellent electrocatalytic properties but is also very versatile, due to the numerous reactive groups in the PUF. 

Carbon nanotube composite

Carbon nanotube composite

'Our results indicated that CNTs were well dispersed and embedded throughout the PUF matrix, and an interconnected CNT network formed,' explains Chen. 

'This conductive CNT network can establish electrical conduction pathways throughout the whole system, which is responsible for the electrical conductivity and electrochemical sensing.' The ease, versatility and low cost of the novel preparation method means that mass production of the CNT/PUF composite should be a straightforward and attractive prospect, says Chen. 

Alberto Escarpa, an expert in analytical microchips at the University of Alcalá, Spain, already sees possibilities for the composite in microfluidics. 'This approach allows us to creatively manipulate new materials to improve analytical performance for lab-on-a-chip devices, where a simple way to enhance sensitivity is highly needed,' he says. 'This current research is really needed and it constitutes an exciting new way to improve the sensitivity in CE microchips.' 

Thanks to its useful properties and ease of manufacture, Chen sees lots of potential for the new material. 'Besides electrochemical sensors, the CNT/PUF composite is also a promising electrode material for the preparation of batteries, supercapacitors, electrolysis cells, electrochemical detectors, and more,' he says. The abundant reactive groups on PUF also make it an ideal support for immobilising enzymes, proteins and DNA says Chen. 

Edward Morgan 


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Link to journal article

A multi-walled carbon nanotube/poly(urea-formaldehyde) composite prepared by in situ polycondensation for enhanced electrochemical sensing
Bangguo Wei, Luyan Zhang and Gang Chen, New J. Chem., 2010, 34, 453
DOI: 10.1039/b9nj00670b

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