Spider silk, a product of 400 million years
of evolution, stops insects on the wing because it is five times tougher
Scientists working with carbon nanotubes are looking to surpass
the strength of spider line. Nanotubes -- rolled-up sheets of carbon atoms
that occur naturally in soot -- also have useful electrical properties.
University of Texas at Dallas researchers have taken a step toward
making carbon nanotube fibers manufacturable by speeding up a nanotube fiber-making
method 100-fold to produce 70 centimeters of nanotube fiber per minute.
The researchers' 100-meter long fibers are four times tougher than
spider silk, and 17 times tougher than the Kevlar fiber used to make bulletproof
vests. Toughness is a measure of the energy needed to break a fiber.
The researchers made the fibers by mixing single-walled nanotubes
into a rotating solution of polyvinyl alcohol to produce gel fibers. They
also formed super capacitors, which store energy, by coating the fibers
with an electrolyte.
Antenna, batteries and electromagnetic shields could eventually
be made from the fibers, according to the researchers.
The fiber process could be used to manufacture small volumes within
a year, according to the researchers. The work appeared in the June 12,
2003 issue of Nature Materials.
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