Sympathetic Stupid

Monday, August 22, 2005

Very Very Very Small Breakthrough

Nanotube Sheets are the product du jour.

See, nanotech has been coming for ages without really changing our lives. But now it looks like that light at the end of the tunnel is actually a miniscule yet disproportionately powerful train.

Some guys at the Uni of Texas (and one guy at CSIRO, good to see) have devised a process which allows them to make these nanotube sheets much faster then ever before. Previously it was more like paper-making; mix a nanotube solution, filter it, dry it, peel it off the filter. Slow. Now, they can produce up to 7m a minute (at about 5cm wide). By my calculations, that's about 504 square metres a day.

Not bad.

Nanotubes have been cool for a while, but why?

Well, for a start this material is about 50nm thick; just the bare 2000 times thinner than paper. (Watch your fingers, that'd slice to the bone in no time.) And it's stronger than steel on a strength-for-weight basis. A square kilometre of it would weight about 30kg. It's also flexible and transparent.

Most importantly, it conducts electricity.

So how about this one; sandwich a nanotube sheet between two pieces of glass. It just looks like glass, but it could be used as an aerial. Or a heating element. Or a light source. Or a heads up display for your car; you don't need to look down at the speedo, it comes up in your peripheral vision.

Since it's flexible, how about we make a rollable screen? It feels like a piece of paper but it's got nanotech smarts and a wireless internet connection, so it can give you a newspaper which updates in real time. (Yeah, it reminds me of The Diamond Age as well.)

How about solar sails? These things are light enough that they can be propelled by sunlight. That's right, by light itself. That might not work on Earth so well, with gravity and whatnot, but how about in space?

How about as a bendy electrode for use in artificial muscles? Because they're carbon, the body doesn't mind having them implanted. Pick me to be the Six Million Dollar Man!

I like solar cells, but they're so expensive and environmentally unfriendly to make. Enter nanotube sheets. They're invisible and pretty efficient. Paint them on the house. Bring tha noise.

Obviously this is all a little pie-in-the-sky still right now, but it's suddenly a lot closer than it was. I'm kinda excited and kinda trepidacious (smartass, just wanted to use that word, I just mean scared).

Just don't drop these things. You'll never find them again.

Here's some articles:

Science News