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Apparao Rao- invented tiny, shock-absorbing carbon springs

Layers of these tiny springs called coiled carbon nanotubes, each a thousand times smaller than a human hair, act as extremely resilient shock absorbers

NRI Professor invented tiny, shock-absorbing carbon springs
to protect Electronic devices such as cell phones from damage, hitting the floor


New York, Aug 14, 2008
Surinder Singh

NRI Apparao Rao, physicist, Professor at Clemson University focuses its research primarily on the synthesis and characterization of carbon nanotubes. He is dedicated to understanding the properties and applications of single-wall and multi-wall carbon nanotubes.

Dr. Rao has devised tiny, shock-absorbing carbon nano springs to protect delicate electronic devices like mobile phones from damage, hitting the floor. Wouldn't it be great if they bounced instead of cracked when dropped?

According to Bio-Medicine media group, a team of Clemson University researchers, led by apparao Rao, professor of physics, has invented a way to make beds of tiny, shock-absorbing carbon springs which possibly could be used to protect delicate objects from damaging impacts. With collaborators at the University of California at San Diego, the team has shown that layers of these tiny springs called coiled carbon nanotubes, each a thousand times smaller than a human hair, can act as extremely resilient shock absorbers.

Similar coiled carbon nanotubes have been made before, yet Clemson researchers say this method is unique since beds of coiled carbon nanotubes can be grown in a single step using a proprietary hydrocarbon-catalyst mixture.

The group also envisions coiled nanotubes in soldiers' body armor, car bumpers and bushings and even as cushioning elements in shoe soles.

"The problem we have faced in the past is producing enough of these coiled carbon nanotubes at a reasonable cost to make a difference," said Rao. "Because our current method produces coiled nanotubes quickly in high yield, it can be readily scaled up to industrial levels. After formation, the coiled nanotubes can be peeled off in one piece and placed on other surfaces to form instant cushioning coatings."

In earlier studies, Rao and his team, along with UCSD collaborators, tested more conventional straight carbon nanotubes against coil-shaped nanotubes. When a stainless steel ball was dropped onto a single nanotube layer, the coiled nanotubes completely recovered from the impact, while the straight ones did not.

Rao said, "If you move your hand backward as experienced in catching a egg and increase the time of contact over which the impact occurs, the impact will be less forceful and the egg will not break. It is the same phenomenon experienced in catching a baseball."





Rao's research focuses on the characterization of carbon nanotubes by Raman spectroscopy and research on electronic devices.


  • Apparao Rao received a B.S. in Physics (1983) from Bombay University, India;
  • Ph.D. is in Condensed Matter Physics (1989), University of Kentucky.
  • Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy
    Clemson University
    Research Interests:
    Solid-state spectroscopy of nanostructured materials.