Multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) were synthesized through pyrolysis of the sulfuric acid-carbonized byproduct of sucrose. While the presence of sulfur in the reaction media has a key role in the formation and population density of MWCNTs, we have not observed the formation of Y-junctions or encountered other novel carbon nanotube formations. Results indicate the presence of sulfur in catalyst particles trapped inside nanotubes, but failed to find sulfur in the side-walls of the CNTs. In order to verify and explain these findings, we analyzed the behavior of sulfur and its possible effects on the side-wall structure of CNTs by using density functional theory-based calculations on various atomic models depicting sulfur inclusion in the side-walls. The results of the computational study were in line with the experimental results and also provided a new perspective by suggesting that the defects such as pentagons may act as nucleation sites for the Y-branches. The results indicated that sulfur prefers to adsorb on these defective regions, but it is not responsible for the formation of these structures or defects. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.