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Large-scale well aligned carbon nitride nanotube films (6 cm in diameter), which are easily processed and show potential for nanomanipulation, have been synthesized by microwave plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition at a relatively low temperature of 550 °C. The characterization, using transmission electron microscopy and electron energy loss spectroscopy, shows that the nanotubes are polymerized by nanobells with nitrogen concentration of 10%. We propose a push-out growth mechanism for the formation of the special polymerized nanobell structure. A turn-on field of electron emission as low as 0.8 V/μm is obtained. Fowler–Nordheim, consisting of two straight lines with a gentle slope at low field and a steep one at relatively high field, are interpreted based on a top side emission mechanism related to the nanobell structures. No current saturation is found in the films. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.