The combination of nanotubes and microwaves is irresistible. Scientists have been analysing, functionalising and destroying nanotubes inside a microwave for a long time. Actually synthesising them using microwaves has attracted less attention. In 2011 a US collective with first author Liu ( DOI) introduced a poptube method for fast synthesis of nantubes with microwave irradiation. All that was required was a mixture of ferrocene and a certain conductive polymer.
In a recent development another US team with first author Nie discovered that the polymer can be replaced by a single nanotube as a kind of seed ( DOI). That is good news because the Nie team felt that synthesising the required polymer was too complex anyway. If the Nie team has tried to reproduce the Liu effort remains unclear but with the new nanotubes-create-more-nanotubes scheme it did not really have to.
A single 3-4 cm nanotube strand is placed in a vial together with 100 mg of ferrocene. Inside the microwave oven heavy sparking originates from the tip of the strand and temperatures reach up to 1000°C finally resulting in a black soot. Iron as nanoparticles catalyse the conversion. 40% yield with just 20 seconds of exposure.
This blog is not convinced though that it really requires a nanotube strand to get the job done. Already in 2003 Hong et al. reported that nanotubes could be synthesised from any surface be it carbon black, silica powder or teflon (DOI).