Researchers at Rice University, the Indian Institute of Technology and the Lebanese American University discovered that grinding carbon nanotubes might be a simple way of forming graphene nanoribbons. The research indicates that a simple process like grinding could deliver strong chemical coupling between solid nanostructures and produce novel forms of products with specific properties.

The scientists mixed two types of chemically modified nanotubes (one with carboxyl groups and the other with hydroxyl groups attached) and ground them together for about 20 minutes using a mortar and pestle. They noticed that when the two types of nanotubes come into contact during grinding, they react and unzip, a process that until now has depended largely on reactions in specific chemical solutions.

The experiments were performed in standard lab conditions as well as in a vacuum, outside in the open air and at different humidity and temperatures conditions. The precise dynamics of the reaction, however, remain unclear.