[Paleopsych] Usatoday: Nanotech researchers report big breakthrough
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Sun Aug 28 00:15:08 UTC 2005
Nanotech researchers report big breakthrough
An advance in nanotechnology may lead to the creation of artificial muscles,
superstrong electric cars and wallpaper-thin electronics, researchers report.
Nanotechnology has tantalized researchers for decades, promising a new era in
stronger and lighter electronic materials. Nanotechnology is the science of
engineering such properties at the molecular, or nanometer, scale. For all its
promise, the technology has mostly been locked in laboratories.
In Friday's edition of the journal Science, however, scientists from the
University of Texas and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial
Research Organization report the creation of industry-ready sheets of materials
made from nanotubes. Nanotubes are tiny carbon tubes with remarkable strength
that are only a few times wider than atoms. They can also act as the
semiconductors found in modern electronics.
"This is fundamentally a new material," says team leader Ray Baughman of the
University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson.
. Self-supporting, transparent and stronger than steel or high-strength
plastics, the sheets are flexible and can be heated to emit light. . A square
mile of the thinnest sheets, about 2-millionths-of-an-inch thick, would weigh
only about 170 pounds.
. In lab tests, the sheets demonstrated solar cell capabilities, using sunlight
to produce electricity.
The team has developed an automated process that produced 2 ¾-inch-wide strips
of nanotubes at a rate of about 47 feet per minute. Other methods take much
longer to create nanotube sheets.
"The technique is most elegant and the applications they've shown are quite
impressive," says nanotube expert Shalom Wind of Columbia University in New
York. Industry and academic researchers are already regarding nanotubes with
avid interest, he adds.
Future applications that scientists have discussed include creating artificial
muscles whose movement is electrically charged, or race cars with stronger,
lighter bodies that could also serve as batteries, says chemist Andrew Barron
of Rice University in Houston.
"We could see this on Formula 1 (racing) cars by next season, says Barron.
"This is a jumping-off point for a technology a lot of people will pursue."
Wind is more cautious about the future. "We'll really have to wait to see the
impact this has and whether it will pan out in commercial technology."
The federal government has made nanotechnology a research priority in recent
years. Funding for the scientists' research came from the Defense Department,
the Texas government and a partnership of nanotechnology labs.
The research team suggests first using the nanotube sheets as transparent
antennae for cars or as electrically heated windows. "We do need to think of a
catchier name than 'nanotube sheets,' " Baughman says.
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