The diamond age
I spent the weekend vibrating over the potential of nanotube sheets. I started with the idea of trying to calculate what a suspension bridge would weigh... and gradually I moved into thinking about smaller, day to day items - like houses. Assuming a huge house built of pine, that weighed 25 tons - you could make one that weighed far less than a few hundred pounds, before infrastructure. Most of the weight in supporting a house goes into supporting itself, all you really need is enough material to support the loading of furniture and people and to keep out the weather.
Tomorrow's house would be a double nano-walled construction, and transparent where-ever you didn't put insulation...
Said house could be powered by the sun, and lit by oleds, built out of the same material.... the mind boggles!
There's a few flaws in this idea, like having an entirely electrically conductive house might not be the best thing in lightning prone areas - but the ratio was the first ratio that let me get a grip on the strength of carbon nanotube sheets. It's still not the right ratio - I have no idea what a typical house weighs, for example, and what happens when you try and drive a nail through a few nanotube sheets? Do you need a titanium or depleted uranium nail?
Second flaw is that these measurements of the nanotube fabric are aligned along the direction of the nanotubes and only count for tensile strength - compressive strength is apparently negligable - but imagine a roof spread like a tent over a basic house frame and you can begin to imagine home uses for the technology.
The actual tested material, 18 sheets thick, had a strength of 465MPa/(g/cm^3). High strength steel is listed 125 MPa/(g/cm^3)).
Third flaw is that the durability of the material hasn't been proven - it could fray, or oxidize, or melt in the rain... but none of those characteristics of the material have been published yet.
It's not just me going nano-nuts this week, The Houston Chronicle writes:
The nanotube sheets are about 2 inches wide and just 50 nanometers thick, or about 2,000 times thinner than the width of a human hair. At this thickness, 250 acres of a solar sail made of nanosheet material would weigh less than 70 pounds.
Applied Nanotech expects its nanotube technology to eventually make possible the development of 32-inch backlights consuming as little as 50 to 60 watts. Applied Nanotech is expected to demonstrate a backlight using carbon nanotube technology at NanoEurope 2005, a nanotechnology trade show and conference in St. Gallen, Switzerland, next month.
UA researchers are part of a team developing synthetic hairs from carbon nanotubes that have adhesion forces 200 times higher than those observed with gecko foot-hairs.
I was delighted to see in the news recently that my favorite unproven technology has made some breakthroughs in the "Save the Smokers" arena. At Stanford University, carbon nanotubes were recently used in a lab to destroy cancer cells, specifically melanoma (skin cancer), while leaving the normal cells around them unharmed.
And the list goes on.