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Nanotube Oscillator (Dec 2005)

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A pendulum swinging back and forth every second due to the law of gravity is a common sight.  By going down to nanometer dimensions new phenomena emerge under different physical laws. According to a recent report, a potassium ion is found to swing back and forth inside a nanoscale tube at a terahertz frequency (a trillion times a second).  Unlike the pendulum, the ion's oscillation is driven by electrostatic interactions with electrons inside the nanotube wall as shown in the figure.  The tube, a carbon nanotube, is composed of a cylindrical hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms; the ion induces through a so-called dielectric response charges in the nanotube wall that interact back with the ion.  This dielectric response of the nanotube electrons, ordinarily, can be described only through time-consuming calculations, but based on previous work (see Jan 2005 highlight) the response can now be calculated very quickly, in effect,  on-the-fly along with the ion motion. The calculations revealed that carbon nanotubes attract ions into their inside and make them oscillate at Terahertz frequency. The Terahertz oscillator may serve as a detector in future imaging devices. (See also our  nanotube website).