Nanotechnology, the development of substances and systems that operate at a molecular scale, is reputed
to have myriad potential applications, ranging from clothes that wash themselves to drugs that can navigate the blood stream.
It has even spawned its very own futuristic nightmare scenario, in which scientists unwittingly unleash ‘grey goo’ that takes over the world.
For better or worse, these eventualities have yet to materialise. However, a rather more prosaic application came one step closer recently, when a team of scientists developed a new technique for constructing cables out of carbon nanotubes – cylindrical particles of carbon.
The team, from Rice University in Texas, used an extremely strong acid to dissolve the nanotubes. Squirting the solution through tiny fissures arranges the nanotubes in a row, thereby creating long fibres.
The scientists behind this breakthrough are now working on using the process to create extremely lightweight power cables. However, performing the process on an industrial scale is limited by the absence of a process to create large quantities of carbon nanotubes.
According to Rice University chemical engineering professor Matteo Pasquali, “We are one miracle away.”