Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas have come up with a new fiber four times tougher than spider silk or twenty times more than steel. And what is the key ingredient? ScienCentral News has the answer: carbon nanotubes.
The new fiber, says chemist John Ferraris, a member of the research team, is “probably one of the first realizations of taking something that has phenomenal properties at the nanoscale, and actually converting it into something that has size that you can do something with.” To make carbon-nanotube fibers, some researchers have tried pulling out threads from bundles of the nanotubes, like drawing silk thread from a cocoon. But the Texas scientists turned to spinning, a method of working with carbon nanotubes originally developed in France.
The Texas group combines carbon nanotubes with water and a plastic. Materials scientist Alan Dalton says the method works because the particular plastic has “an affinity for water and it likes carbon nanotubes. When we assemble the fibers, the polymer latches on to the surface of the nanotubes and forms a gel.” Then the researchers spin the gel -- 70 times faster than their French counterparts did -- to produce long, continuous fibers.
The researchers think that this fiber, which is easy to sew, could be integrated into lightweight military uniforms, protecting soldiers and giving them electronic connections. And they did some early experiments. Here is an image of the fiber woven into a fabric (Credit: Univ. of Texas at Dallas).
But as the author points out, there is one major obstacle, price. Try to buy carbon nanotubes online from Carbon Nanotechnologies, Inc. and you'll see prices ranging from $500 to $900 per gram.
You can read the abstract of their full report, "Super-tough carbon-nanotube fibres" published by Nature (Vol. 423, June 12, 2003).
Source: Ann Marie Cunningham, ScienCentral News, July 24, 2003
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