A variety of outstanding experimental results on the elucidation of the elastic properties of carbon nanotubes are fast appearing. These are based mainly on the techniques of high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) to determine the Young’s moduli of single-wall nanotube bundles and multi-walled nanotubes, prepared by a number of methods. These results are confirming the theoretical predictions that carbon nanotubes have high strength plus extraordinary flexibility and resilience. As well as summarising the most notable achievements of theory and experiment in the last few years, this paper explains the properties of nanotubes in the wider context of materials science and highlights the contribution of our research group in this rapidly expanding field. A deeper understanding of the relationship between the structural order of the nanotubes and their mechanical properties will be necessary for the development of carbon-nanotube-based composites. Our research to date illustrates a qualitative relationship between the Young’s modulus of a nanotube and the amount of disorder in the atomic structure of the walls. Other exciting results indicate that composites will benefit from the exceptional mechanical properties of carbon nanotubes, but that the major outstanding problem of load transfer efficiency must be overcome before suitable engineering materials can be produced.
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