Rice scientists led by Matteo Pasquali, a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering and in chemistry, have been trying to untangle nanotubes for years as they look for scalable methods to make exceptionally strong, ultralight, highly conductive materials that could revolutionize power distribution, such as the armchair quantum wire. [Parra-Vasquez et al., ACS Nano., (2010), DOI: 10.1021/nn100864v]

Pasquali, primary author Nicholas Parra-Vasquez and their colleagues report that chlorosulfonic acid can dissolve half-millimeter-long nanotubes in solution, a critical step in spinning fibers from ultralong nanotubes.
Current methods to dissolve carbon nanotubes, which include surrounding the tubes with soap-like surfactants, doping them with alkali metals or attaching small chemical groups to the sidewalls, disperse nanotubes at relatively low concentrations. These techniques are not ideal for fiber spinning because they damage the properties of the nanotubes, either by attaching small molecules to their surfaces or by shortening them.
A few years ago, the Rice researchers discovered that chlorosulfonic acid, “a super acid”, adds positive charges to the surface of the nanotubes without damaging them. This causes the nanotubes to spontaneously separate from each other in their natural bundled form.
This method is ideal for making nanotube solutions for fiber spinning because it produces fluid dopes that closely resemble those used in industrial spinning of high-performance fibers. Until recently, the researchers thought this dissolution method would be effective only for short single-walled nanotubes.
In the paper, the Rice team reported that the acid dissolution method also works with any type of carbon nanotube, irrespective of length and type, as long as the nanotubes are relatively free of defects.
Parra-Vasquez described the process as "very easy."

"Just adding the nanotubes to chlorosulfonic acid results in dissolution, without even mixing," he said.
While earlier research had focused on single-walled carbon nanotubes, the team discovered chlorosulfonic acid is also adept at dissolving multiwalled nanotubes (MWNTs). "There are many processes that make multiwalled nanotubes at a cheaper cost, and there's a lot of research with them," said Parra-Vasquez, "We hope this will open up new areas of research." He continued.