Thursday, June 15, 2006

Nanotube sheets

In the August 19, 2005 issue of Science, there was an article on carbon nanotube sheets, starting from chemically grown, self-assembled structures in which nanotubes are aligned like trees in a forest, in which the sheets are produced at up to seven meters per minute by the coordinated rotation of a trillion nanotubes per minute for every centimeter of sheet width.

"Rarely is a processing advance so elegantly simple that rapid commercialization seems possible, and rarely does such an advance so quickly enable diverse application demonstrations," said the article's corresponding author, Dr. Ray H. Baughman, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and director of the UTD NanoTech Institute. "Synergistic aspects of our nanotube sheet and twisted yarn fabrication technologies likely will help accelerate the commercialization of both technologies, and UTD and CSIRO are working together with companies and government laboratories to bring both technologies to the marketplace."

One notes that there is separately an article in the May 22, 2006 issue of Nature on the space elevator.

Also, in Science, in March 2006, Baughman reported on new (synthetic) muscle fibers double as fuel cells. One "muscle" was based on the grouped carbon nanotubes, used as a fuel cell.

Dr. Baughman said the technology was simple enough that it could
find commercial applications in as few as three years.


Anybody know what a space elevator is? It's basically a long, thick cable that stretches from the surface of a planet to an orbital height. Cargo carrying machines can climb up and down the cable, cutting vast costs from using a reaction engine to reach orbit. Once at the top of the cable, the orbital velocity is such that only a relatively small boost can free an object from the Earth's gravity well, allowing ships to head off towards asteroids, planets, moons, etc., at a pittance compared to how we might do it now. It all sounds like science-fiction, but thanks to the discovery and subsequent applications of buckyballs, science-fiction will once again prove itself as a prognosticator.

Buckyballs are a form of carbon, like graphite and diamond, only with many more atoms in the molecule.[IPBiz: ???] I beleive the first variety discovered had 64 [IPBiz: ???], though with experimentation scientists have been able to create buckytubes, and those are key to the space elevator. Until buckytubes were invented, there was no substance cheap enough and strong enough for the cable for a space elevator. [IPBiz: cheap enough?] According to the scientists at the head of a 3 year government funded study, the space elevator could be built using buckytubes in 10 years for $10 billion. That sounds like a lot, but compared to how much it cost to put a man on the moon, it's nothing, and yet a far greater achievement, as it opens up the solar system. This isn't just about science, it's about exploration, mining, tourism (think how many people would line up to pay $4000 for a few hours in zero G at the top of the elevator, I know I'd save for it), and so many things we haven't even thought of yet.

[No mention of Clarke's Fountains in the blogpost!]


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