Carbon nanotubes have been used to simply and inexpensively join together aerospace-grade composites used to manufacture aircraft. The technique, developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), bypasses the need for costly and energy intensive pressure vessels and could speed up the production of aircraft and high-performance composite structures like wind turbine blades.
Modern aircraft are constructed from sheet-like composites, which are fused together at high temperatures within giant pressurised vessels called autoclaves. These are required to force out tiny pockets of air that form between the sheets thanks to their microscopic surface roughness – much like squeezing out air bubbles that form under a plastic film.
Atomic Force Microscopy, along with other techniques like electron microscopy, can be a useful tool in characterizing the carbon nanotube structures used for this kind of purpose. The alignment and consistency of such nanostructures can drastically affect material performance. The ability of AFM to produce nanometer scale images of surfaces in ambient air conditions is an important complement to techniques like Scanning Electron Microscopy which is performed in vacuum.