Iron-dotted boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs), made in Yoke Khin Yap's lab at Michigan Technological University, feature a flexibility and electronic behavior that support new wearable technology.

The insulating effect of BNNTs prevents current leakage and overheating. Additionally, electron flow only occurs across the metal dots on the nanotubes.

In past research, Yap and his team used gold for quantum dots, placed along a BNNT in a tidy line. With enough energy potential, the electrons are repelled by the insulating nanotube and hopscotch from gold dot to gold dot; the electron movement is called quantum tunneling.

For future use in wearable electronics, the multiplicity of paths ensures electricity is moving from one dot to the next, one way or another. Using scanning tunneling microscopy inside a transmission electron microscope (STM-TEM), the team successfully bent the iron dot-coated BNNT while monitoring the electron flows. The electronic behaviors remain the same, even when the BNNT was bent all the way up to 75 degrees.

“Next, we’ll put the BNNT and iron onto a bendable plastic substrate,” Yap says. “Then we’ll bend this substrate and watch where the electrons go.”