Surface-charge effects on the electro-orientation of insulating boron-nitride nanotubes in aqueous suspension

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The alignment of hexagonal boron-nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) in aqueous KCl solutions under spatially uniform electric fields was examined experimentally, using direct optical visualization to probe the orientation dynamics of individual BNNTs for different electric-field frequencies. Different from most previously studied nanowires and nanotubes, BNNTs are wide-bandgap materials which are essentially insulating at room temperature. We analyze the electro-orientation of BNNTs in the general context of polarizable cylindrical particles in liquid suspensions, whose behavior can fall into different regimes, including alignment due to Maxwell-Wagner induced dipoles at high frequencies, and alignment due to fluid motion of the electrical double layer around the particles at lower frequencies. For BNNTs, the variation of the crossover frequencies in the electro-orientation spectra was studied in electrolytes of different conductivity. The effect of BNNT surface charge on electro-orientation was further studied by changing the pH of the aqueous solution. We find that the electric-field alignment of the BNNTs in the low-frequency regime is associated with the charging and motion of the electrical double layer around the particle. However, as BNNTs are non-conducting particles, the reasons for the formation of the electrical double layer are likely to be different than that of conducting particles. We discuss two possible mechanisms for the double-layer formation and alignment of 1D dielectric particles, and make comparison to those for the more commonly studied conducting particles.

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© 2017 Published by Elsevier Inc. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcis.2017.05.073

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Journal of Colloid and Interface Science