View all news

Triffids win the day in science photography competition

Carbon nanotubes

False-colour electron microscope image of diamond-coated carbon-nanotube ‘teepees'; each nanotube is thousands of times thinner than a human hair

18 March 2015

Professor Paul May in the School of Chemistry has won the overall prize in a national science photography competition organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with an image of a diamond-coated forest of carbon nanotubes that can act as miniature electron emitters.

‘March of the Triffids’ shows carbon nanotubes, around 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, that are joined to form structures that act as emitters for electrical current.

This false-colour electron microscope image, which also came first in the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ category, stole the show ahead of many other stunning pictures, featuring research in action, in the EPSRC competition.

Professor May explained: ‘Carbon nanotubes normally grow vertically upwards, like the bristles on a hairbrush, but in contact with water they clump together like wet hair to form “teepee-like” structures with a pointy top. We deposited a very thin layer of diamond onto these to lock them into shape. They now form arrays of points, comprising between 10 and 20 carbon nanotubes. When we apply a high voltage, electrons can travel up the nanotubes to the tip of the teepee and be emitted into a vacuum, where they can be made to strike a phosphor screen to give off light. This may result in display screens that last longer.’

Explaining why he named the winning image ‘March of the Triffids’, Professor May said: ‘I tried several different false-colour schemes in Photoshop, and when I tried green the teepee structures immediately reminded me of triffids, and hundreds of them together looked like an army on the march.’

Congratulating the winners and entrants, Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: ‘The quality of the entries is testament to the talents, both scientific and artistic, of the people EPSRC supports. This competition and these truly inspirational images are a great way for us to engage with academics, connect the general public with research they fund, and inspire everyone to take an interest in science and engineering.’

The competition, now in its second year, received over 150 entries which were drawn from researchers in receipt of EPSRC funding. 

Edit this page