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Vertically aligned carbon nanofibers (VACNFs) have been grown using a low-pressure, plasma-enhanced, chemical vapor deposition process. The nanofibers are grown from a nickel catalyst that can be patterned to form arrays of individual, isolated VACNFs. The fibers are grown at pressures below 100 mTorr, using an inductively coupled plasma source with a radio-frequency bias on the sample substrate to allow for independent control of the ion energies. Plasma conditions are related to growth results by comparing optical emission from the plasma to the physical structure of the nanofibers. We find that the ratio of etching species in the plasma to depositing species is critical to the final shape of the carbon structures that are formed. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.