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Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Physics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Physics

First Advisor

Yoke Khin Yap


Boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) are structurally similar to carbon nanotubes (CNTs), but exhibit completely different physical and chemical properties. Thus, BNNTs with various interesting properties may be complementary to CNTs and provide an alternative perspective to be useful in different applications. However, synthesis of high quality of BNNTs is still challenging. Hence, the major goals of this research work focus on the fundamental study of synthesis, characterizations, functionalization, and explorations of potential applications.

In this work, we have established a new growth vapor trapping (GVT) approach to produce high quality and quantity BNNTs on a Si substrate, by using a conventional tube furnace. This chemical vapor deposition (CVD) approach was conducted at a growth temperature of 1200 °C. As compared to other known approaches, our GVT technique is much simpler in experimental setup and requires relatively lower growth temperatures. The as-grown BNNTs are fully characterized by scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS), Energy Filtered Mapping, Raman spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infra Red spectroscopy (FTIR), UV-Visible (UV-vis) absorption spectroscopy, etc. Following this success, the growth of BNNTs is now as convenient as growing CNTs and ZnO nanowires. Some important parameters have been identified to produce high-quality BNNTs on Si substrates. Furthermore, we have identified a series of effective catalysts for patterned growth of BNNTs at desirable or pre-defined locations. This catalytic CVD technique is achieved based on our finding that MgO, Ni or Fe are the good catalysts for the growth of BNNTs. The success of patterned growth not only explains the role of catalysts in the formation of BNNTs, this technique will also become technologically important for future device fabrication of BNNTs.

Following our success in controlled growth of BNNTs on substrates, we have discovered the superhydrophobic behavior of these partially vertically aligned BNNTs. Since BNNTs are chemically inert, resistive to oxidation up to ~1000°C, and transparent to UV-visible light, our discovery suggests that BNNTs could be useful as self-cleaning, insulating and protective coatings under rigorous chemical and thermal conditions.

We have also established various approaches to functionalize BNNTs with polymeric molecules and carbon coatings. First, we showed that BNNTs can be functionalized by mPEG-DSPE (Polyethylene glycol-1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine), a bio-compatible polymer that helps disperse and dissolve BNNTs in water solution. Furthermore, well-dispersed BNNTs in water can be cut from its original length of >10µm to(>20hrs). This success is an essential step to implement BNNTs in biomedical applications. On the other hand, we have also succeeded to functionalize BNNTs with various conjugated polymers. This success enables the dispersion of BNNTs in organic solvents instead of water. Our approaches are useful for applications of BNNTs in high-strength composites. In addition, we have also functionalized BNNTs with carbon decoration. This was performed by introducing methane (CH4) gas into the growth process of BNNT. Graphitic carbon coatings can be deposited on the side wall of BNNTs with thicknesses ranging from 2 to 5 nm. This success can modulate the conductivity of pure BNNTs from insulating to weakly electrically conductive.

Finally, efforts were devoted to explore the application of the wide bandgap BNNTs in solar-blind deep UV (DUV) photo-detectors. We found that photoelectric current generated by the DUV light was dominated in the microelectrodes of our devices. The contribution of photocurrent from BNNTs is not significant if there is any. Implication from these preliminary experiments and potential future work are discussed.