Highly conductive graphene nanoribbons are finding their way into the marketplace in composite materials. The nanoribbons boost the materials’ electronic properties and/or strength. A simple way to turn carbon nanotubes into valuable graphene nanoribbons may be to grind them, according to research led by Rice University. Rice materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan says the trick is to mix two types of chemically modified nanotubes. When they come into contact during grinding, they react and unzip, a process that until now has depended largely on reactions in harsh chemical solutions. The new process is still a chemical reaction that depends on molecules purposely attached to the nanotubes, a process called functionalization. The most interesting part to the researchers is that a process as simple as grinding could deliver strong chemical coupling between solid nanostructures and produce novel forms of nanostructured products with specific properties.