Chirality is an important determinant of the optical and electronic properties of single walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs). Pristine zigzag SWNTs have been functionalized with lipids by a solid state functionalization process. Neither the lipids nor the SWNTs show a circular dichroism (CD) signal prior to functionalization. Upon functionalization, a change in the joint density of electronic states occurs which is reflected by a three-peak G′ band profile and the emergence of a CD signal. A molecular mechanism for the emergent CD signal associated with this lipid-specific self-assembly is described. © the Partner Organisations 2014.