Dr John Abrahamson Carbon Nanotubes Early Work - People - Chemical and Process Engineering - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Carbon Nanotubes Early Work

by John Abrahamson and Peter Wiles

This list of publications documents the work around what appears to be the first study of carbon nanotubes (the term "nanotubes" originated in the 1990's). The 1979 paper where the structural study was presented is reproduced in Carbon, November 1999, with an editorial in the same issue, commenting on the possible historical significance of the paper.


Finished doctoral study on the reaction of hydrogen with carbon to form acetylene, in carbon arcs.

Abrahamson, J. (1971) The reactions of coal in a high intensity electric arc. PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ.


Estimated surface energies of graphite from various sources, with the intention of applying this to phenomena in carbon arcs.
Abrahamson, J. (1973) The surface energies of graphite. Carbon vol. 11, 337-362.

Photo of standard carbon arc apparatus1974

The existing observations on the "standard carbon arc" are shown to be consistent with the idea of finely divided carbon solid suspended in front of the carbon anode. The surface energy of this solid if less than 10 nm in size, is argued to be important to reduce the effective sublimation temperature at one atmosphere from around 4000 K to the 3800 K observed by pyrometry.
Abrahamson, J. (1974) Graphite sublimation temperatures, carbon arcs and crystallite erosion. Carbon, vol. 12 , 111-141.
Photo of standard carbon arc apparatus used on right.


First mention in a publication of carbon fibres down to 4 nm diameter, found on a graphite electrode. These small carbon fibres (now known as nanotubes) and their attached small particles were viewed as essential for the electric arc mechanism of attachment to the anode, and also for the 3800K temperature of the secondary radiance standard of the low carbon arc.

Wiles, P.G. and Abrahamson, J. (1978) Carbon fibre layers on arc electrodes - I. Their properties and cool-down behaviour. Carbon, vol. 16, 341-349.
Excerpt p341-2- "The fibres. range in diameter from about 4 nm to about 100 nm, with lengths of up to 15 micrometres, and hold many small crystalline particles on them, especially around intersections of touching fibres. A transmission electron micrograph of the finer fibres on an SPK graphite anode, showing the attached particles, is given in Fig. 3."

Fibres1979 More details of the structure of the fine electrode fibres (including electron diffraction) were given at the Carbon conference at Penn State University, USA.  This paper was presented by John Abrahamson.

Abrahamson, J., Wiles, P.G., and Rhoades, B.L. (1979) Structure of carbon fibres found on carbon arc anodes. 14th Biennial Conference on Carbon, insert for p254-255, June 25-29, 1979, Penn. State Univ., University Park, Penn., USA.

From the electron diffraction study we reported that

  1. The fibres consisted of wrapped graphitic basal layers
  2. The fibres had a hollow core
  3. The basal layer spacing was distorted from the normal graphitic spacing, and larger. Text from 1979 paper: Letter to the Editor, Carbon, vol 37, no 11(1999).


Peter Wiles finishes his doctoral work supervised by John Abrahamson, during which the carbon nanotubes were discovered.
Wiles, P.G. (1979) The production of acetylene by a carbon arc. PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ.

The thesis contains additional observations of fine fibres on carbon cathodes.


As part of the study of carbon solid rearrangements under high temperature, a CNDO estimate was made of the minimum energy position of a C atom and a C2 molecule inserted between two polyaromatic molecules arranged as in graphite layers. The existence of interstitial carbon may cause propping of the graphite layers at different layer-to-layer distances.

Abrahamson, John and Maclagan, Robert G.A.R. (1984) Theoretical studies of interstitials in graphite. Carbon, vol. 22 , 291-295.

Other papers were published on the behaviour of high current carbon arcs, from the viewpoint of developing a commercial style of acetylene reactor.

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