Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

  The Diamond Age II

In "The Graduate", a well meaning parent whispers the one word required to assure Dustin Hoffman's future fortune: "Plastics" - And that may well have been true, in the 60s and 70s and 80s. Before that - it was aluminum, or maybe it was stainless steel (anybody remember the fad for dishes and cups made of metal? it didn't last long) - but there was plastic everything in everything for a long time before it became passe'.

This decade's magic material is "Carbon nanotubes". Last week I talked about Carbon nanotube ribbons which have immense strength under tension - a weight to strength ration almost enough to build a space elevator. I drove around the next morning having a nanoday - trying to work out "how much would that overpass have to weigh if it were made of nanotube ribbon?" The answer was - very, very little - except that, as the ribbons only had strength under tension, steel and concrete - or composites - would have to be used for support and the designs for the overpasses changed to be suspension bridges...

If a sizeable solar sail could weigh 70kg - how thick and heavy would an America's cup sail need to be?

So, anyway, I was stuck on the supporting structure part of the problem. I missed my exit into work by 10 miles, I was so focused seeing the world through nano-eyes! I'm sure the scientists and engineers and grad-students working on this have the same problem, only multiplied.

Today another lab has built Aggregated diamond nanorods with immense strength under compression. Or, at least I think that's what they are saying - they claim to be "harder than diamond" - which I take means the same thing. Hah. A diamond is an engineer's best friend, too. Aggregated diamond nanorods look pretty hard to make, though. Hmm, what could you use these things for, on earth, in small quantities and sizes?

And a third lab has built - a diamond superconductor at 4 degrees kelvin. Man, that's cold. Power supply for polar moon base?

I keep wondering why shuttle tiles never became a viable NASA spinoff. They would make an excellent insulator for a woodstove...

...but, anyway, carbon based materials are breaking out all over. Another thing I love about carbon - it's available everywhere. Theoretically, manufacturing could be anywhere - or everywhere - the Diamond age could be the revolution that brings the population of our entire planet into harmony with this century's technology - wealth now held by only a few nations.
 
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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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