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WVU chemist is a molecular architect

West Virginia University chemist Kung Wang is an architect. Not the kind that builds houses – one that designs molecules. 

Kung Wang
Kung Wang

Wang is constructing a synthetic pathway to creating new molecular templates for growing carbon nanotubes, honeycomb-shaped tubes that are the foundation for applications in nanotechnology and for conducting electricity. 

“Some researchers have predicted that carbon nanotubes will have a thousand times better conductivity than copper. The material is very lightweight, which makes it more efficient and easier to use,” said Wang, the Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of Chemistry who has worked at WVU for 38 years.

Supported by a nearly $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation, Wang and his research team are creating short segments of carbon nanotube compounds with the intention of creating a template to ensure the diameter of the carbon nanotube remains consistent when duplicated over time, a precursor to mass-producing these materials in industry.

“Their consistent size and orientation are very important for the materials’ properties,” Wang said. 

Once the template is created, Wang and his team will use that mold as a seed to grow carbon nanotubes in a vacuum chamber.

“Current technology has few methods to control the size of the tubes and the orientation of the hexagon,” Wang said. “This way, we can control the size of the tube and the hexagons’ orientation to ensure all of the grown carbon nanotubes are the same size and orientation.”  

Wang’s NSF award is an example of ongoing research success in WVU’s C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry over the last three years. During this time, the department boasts two NSF CAREER Award recipients, a $1 million NSF award, nearly $500,000 NIH award and another nearly $500,000 NSF award, among others. Currently, there are more major federal grants active in the department than there are tenured or tenure-track faculty, setting the stage for sustained innovation in the coming years.

“This latest round of NSF support for the Wang laboratory at WVU is well deserved and will surely lead to exciting innovations,” said Gregory Dudley, chair of the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry. “Professor Wang brings a unique perspective to current challenges in the construction of high-performance nanomaterials. We all appreciate his contributions to science and continue to expect great things from him and his students.”