Carbon nanotubes can be used in a variety of different contexts. Most recently, tubes were filled with drugs and sealed with biodegradable caps, allowing them to work inside cells, where they delivered their loads. There has been some concern that these nanotubes might not target the drugs well enough, which is why researchers at the University of Rochester in New York State have come up with exploding carbon nanotubes.
Vitaly Chaban and Oleg Prezhdo published their findings through arXiv, and their idea was to fill the nanotubes with a mixture of drugs and water molecules, and then seal them with a secure cap. They’ve shown that a small temperature increase dramatically increases the pressure inside the nanotube. Water behaves differently in narrow carbon nanotubes (CNT), exhibiting a transition to an unusual phase, where pressure is gas-like and grows linearly with temperature. The diffusion remains constant and is also temperature-dependent.
Once these CNTs are heated by a laser, the solvent boiling destroys the CNTs and releases the drugs. However, the researchers still need to answer questions about how safe this process would be. Since the medium inside the human cells propagates shock waves differently than air, the destruction of the CNTs could destroy or damage the molecular machinery inside the cells that the device is trying to cure.
Reference: “Water Boiling inside Carbon Nanotubes: Towards Efficient Drug Release” by Vitaly V. Chaban and Oleg V. Prezhdo, 7 February 2012, Condensed Matter > Materials Science.