Nano-structured materials hold the promise stronger and lighter materials for use in many applications. It is envisioned that these materials will revolutionize many areas of modern technology from car manufacturing to medical applications. One special subclass of these materials called carbon nanotubes have developed rapidly.
These carbon nanotubes, first discovered in 1991 by Japanese scientist Sumio Iijima, are cylindrical carbon molecules with structures similar to "buckyballs" (named for the late U.S. architect Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller who designed a geodesic dome with the same fundamental geometry). In 2004, Los Alamos produced a singlewalled carbon nanotube (4 centimeters in length). Currently, Laboratory scientists, including Zhu, also of MPASTC, are developing arrays of ultralong, super-strong, lightweight, double-walled carbon nanotubes. These arrays allow the nanotubes to be spun into fibers.
These fibers, developed by LosAlamos scientist Yuntian Zhu, are 100 times stronger than steel (pound for pound for the same weight), tougher than diamonds, and roughly one-tenthousandth of a human hair in diameter.
Los Alamos has licensed this carbon nanotube technology to Seattle-based CNT Technologies Inc. Initial tests show that the ultrastrong carbon-nanotube fiber, branded SuperThread™ by the company, can have better properties than steel for many applications and could soon be the primary substance from which the best airplanes, automobile parts, and sports equipment are made.
For more details on this development go to the links below.
Development of Nanotube fibers at LANL
CRADA News (pdf)
New Mexican Science Article (pdf)