Tough tubes

Nanotechnology researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas and Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, have developed a new process that allows carbon nanotube composite fibres to be continuously spun.

Nanotechnology researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, have developed a new process that allows carbon nanotube composite fibres to be continuously spun. The new fibres made by the process are apparently tougher than any previously reported polymer fibre made either by man or nature.

According to the researchers, the toughness of the fibres is more than four times that of spider silk and 17 times that of the Kevlar used in bullet-proof vests. The fibres have twice the stiffness and strength and 20 times the toughness of the same weight and length of steel wire.

‘The remarkable mechanical and electronic properties of individual carbon nanotubes have been known for some time,’ said Dr. Ray H. Baughman, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and director of the UTD NanoTech Institute.

‘However, mankind has largely been unsuccessful in processing untold billions of these invisible nanofibres to make useful articles that exploit these properties. Our spinning method is the first to produce continuous fibres of carbon nanotubes suitable for potential use in a wide array of applications.’

According to Baughman, the fibres created using the new spinning technique could be used to make clothes that could store electrical energy and power various electrical devices. Or, they could be employed in the creation of synthetic muscles capable of generating 100 times the force of the same diameter natural muscle. A more obvious application might be in the development of more effective bullet-proof vests and anti-ballistic materials.

The research was funded primarily by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military.