Balloon Nanotube Construction

Procedure created by Dana Horoszewski, Ryan Nygard, Kelly Luster, Jai Paguirigan, Erin Hood and Heidi Williamson.

This tutorial describes how to build and display a 10-30 foot tall balloon model of a carbon nanotube.


20-foot balloon model of a carbon nanotube
  • This tutorial does not address the safety concerns associated with suspending a large sculpture, although  the hazards are mitigated given that the structure is very lightweight.
  • Balloons are latex and should not be handled by someone with latex allergies. Balloons are powdered with latex and persons with severe latex allergies can be affected by being too close to balloons while they are being inflated.
  • Use fresh balloons - order no more than a few weeks in advance.
  • Balloons deteriorate quickly when exposed to heat or UV light. Minimizing exposure to sunlight and heat sources will increase the lifetime of the sculpture.
  • Step 1: Constructing the frame. (If you have recieved a frame from the NISE Network, you may skip this part.)

    1. Dura PEX tubing usually comes in 25 ft spools. Cut the tubing into two 12.5 ft pieces; this will be enough for two 4-foot diameter frames. Insert the 1/2" male/male joint into one end of the tubing and drill a hole through both pieces with a power drill about 0.5" from the end of the tube. Insert the other end of the joint into the opposite end of the tube and repeat.

    2. The hoop for the frame is secured using screws and wing nuts. Use a screw to attach the joint to one end of the tubing.
    3. Attach the other end of the tubing to the joint with the second screw and wing nut.
    4. Mark out quadrants on the circle using tape or pen.  Put a mark directly across from the joint, then put marks halfway between that mark and the joint on each side.

    Step 2: Preparing the frame for hanging

    1. Fold an approximately 10ft segment of medium rope in half and tie across the circle at two of the marked points. Repeat  for the other two marks with another length of rope. [Optional: the ropes can be duct taped where they meet the frame to prevent sliding during construction.]

    Step 3: Hanging the frame

    1. Tie one end of the climbing rope to the point where the medium ropes cross.  A hangman's knot works well for this.
    a. You should consult your building manager about the best way to hang and tie off the sculpture.   Note that the frame will have to be raised several times during construction and the final sculpture will weigh about 10 lb.
    b. Initially, the frame should be suspended about shoulders' height from the floor.
    2. Once the frame has been hung, adjust it by sliding the medium ropes through the center knot until the frame is balanced and even with the floor.

    Step 4:  Adding the first ring

    1. Tie twelve 12" lengths of fishing line to the frame, three on each quarter segment.  They should be tied loosely enough to slide on the frame
    2. Inflate Qualatex 350 balloons to 22".  The sculpture looks best when the balloon lengths are relatively uniform, so you may want to inflate one balloon to the desired length and then use the length of this balloon as a template.  You will need approximately 90 balloons for every 10 ft of sculpture you want to build.

    3. For the first ring, tie 6 balloons head to tail in a circle.  The uninflated end of the balloon should be tied off close to where the inflation ends.
    4. Find the midpoint of one of the balloons, then pinch and twist it around a few times to make a joint.  Then, find the midpoint of each half, pinch and twist it around a few times, dividing the balloon into quarters. To make sure that the joints don't unroll, tie a knot around each with a piece of broken, or unused balloon. (This is only necessary for the top and bottom of the sculpture - all other joints will be knotted to other balloons which will prevent unrolling.) Repeat with the other 5 baloons until you have a ring with 24 segments.
    5. Tie every other joint to the frame using the fishing line.  Two joints should be tied to each quarter segment of the frame.  When finished, adjust the fishing lines to give an even zig-zag shape, with upward- and downward-pointing joints along the ring.

    Step 5:  Adding  to the structure

    a) Pinch and twist a new balloon at its midpoint.  Drape this balloon by the midpoint over a downward-pointing joint.
    b) Folding the two halves of the hanging balloon downward over the joint, twist them together at their respective midpoints, forming an upside-down 'Y' shape.
    c) Repeat steps a) and b) on the next downward facing joint, so that two upside-down Y-shaped balloons are hanging next to each other.
    d) Knot adjacent ends of the Y-shaped balloons together, forming a hexagon.
    e) Repeat steps a) through d) to complete the row and to add more rows to the sculpture.  Raise the structure periodically so that it is at a comfortable working height.

    Step 6: Finishing the structure

    1. When the frame has been raised to the maximum height, add as many rows as you can with out having the sculpture touch the floor. (Grit on the floor can cause balloons to pop).  Stop on step c).
    2. For the final row, twist the midpoint of the pentagons and tie a knot around them with a piece of unused balloon.
    3. The bottom row may need some weight added to look like hexagons. Fill a balloon with a small amount of water and drape over the joint to add weight.

    Step 7: Clean up

    When you are ready to take down the sculpture, lower the frame to the floor.  Cut the fishing line and take the sculpture outside to pop, as it can be noisy.  To deflate a balloon with out popping, cut where the balloon is stretched at the ends.  Be sure to clean up all the pieces of popped balloon!


    12.5 ft
    100 ft 
    20 ft
    1 roll
    1 spool 
    1 pair
    2 bags

    Balloon pump or source of compressed air
    Dura PEX tubing, 3/4" OD, 1/2" ID
    1/2" male/male joint, plastic or copper
    Wing nuts
    Phillips head screwdriver
    Climbing/Poly rope
    Medium thickness rope (we use 3/8" diameter nylon rope)
    Duct tape
    Fishing line
    Qualatex 350 balloons in Onyx Black, 100 ct (available from
    NOTE: do not order more than 1 month before construction

    Exploring the Nanoworld   |   MRSEC Nanostructured Interfaces
    Copyright © 2007 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

    This page created by Heidi Williamson, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Last modified August 2, 2007.