Exciting breakthrough in nanotubes

Date: Wed Dec 18 2013 Technology
For several years nanotubes have been an up-and-coming new thing which was supposed to revolutionize lotsa things. But I don't know much about them, other than they are made by forming carbon atoms in a particular geometry that can be strung into long molecules with great strength. The geometry is related to the information Buckminster Fuller taught (he invented the Geodesic Dome out of the same geometry).

Researchers produce strong, transparent carbon nanotube sheets (August 18, 2005, physorg.com)

Numerous electronic, optical and structural uses demonstrated; Advance reported in Aug. 19 issue of journal Science

University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) nanotechnologists and an Australian colleague have produced transparent carbon nanotube sheets that are stronger than the same-weight steel sheets and have demonstrated applicability for organic light-emitting displays, low-noise electronic sensors, artificial muscles, conducting appliqués and broad-band polarized light sources that can be switched in one ten-thousandths of a second.

Nanotubes show their strength in numbers Super-strong sheets could be used in future screens and surfaces (By Kathleen Wren, Science, Updated: 4:07 p.m. ET Aug. 18, 2005, published by MSNBC.COM)

Also cited is a paper in Nature, which cannot be read without a subscription: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v423/n6941/full/423703a.html

What's described is a big breakthrough in producing nanotube material in large quantity. They have developed a method of producing large sheets, where "large" is a few inches wide and many meters long. As they've played with these nanotube sheets they're discovering many direct applications of the technology.

For example it acts as a low-resistance conductor whose resistance doesn't vary with temperature. It can both emit light, and absorb light (turning the light to electricity). It's also largely transparent making it suitable for windshields.

One use discussed is to create a "solar sail". This is a concept first described by one of the 1950's science fiction authors, where spacecraft would be powered by huge sails that capture the motion of particles streaming from the sun. To make any headway the sails have to be miles across (a.k.a. "huge") yet extremely thin, light, flexible and strong. These nanotube sheets are exactly the ticket for this use.

The researchers are at:

  • NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas: http://nanotech.utdallas.edu/
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization: http://www.csiro.au/ http://www.csiro.gov.au/