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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Nanofiber Fabric Unveiled
11 June 2003 (All day)
Talk about a power suit. Researchers have now created the toughest fibers ever--and they conduct electricity to boot. Such threads, made of carbon nanotubes, could revolutionize military garb by serving as both a bulletproof barrier and an electric textile that powers sensors, electronics, and communications gear.
Researchers have dreamed of making fabrics from carbon nanotubes ever since the tiny all-carbon cylinders were discovered in 1991. The strong bonds between adjacent carbon atoms make individual nanotubes one of the toughest materials known. But coaxing individual nanotubes to wrap into fibers has proven challenging. Three years ago, French researchers made headway by mixing nanotubes with a polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and water. The spaghetti-like PVA strands wrapped around the nanotubes and helped hold them together. But when the team washed off the PVA, the nanotube fibers were only about 20 centimeters long.
Now, a group led by chemist Ray Baughman at the University of Texas, Dallas, has modified the French team's approach with impressive results. Most importantly, Baughman's group didn't try to remove the PVA from their nanotube mixture. And they also modified the fiber drawing process, sending the gel into a pipe spinning like an axle, which helps the fiber components coalesce. The result was striking: fibers hundreds of meters long that are four times tougher than spider silk, and 17 times tougher than Kevlar used in bulletproof vests. The fibers also have twice the stiffness and strength and 20 times the toughness of the same weight of steel wire, the team reports in the 12 June issue of Nature.
When Baughman's group connected twisted pairs of the fibers to a battery, they created an electric potential between the two strands, turning them into a supercapacitor, a device capable of storing electric charge. Baughman's team then wove their supercapacitor fibers with more traditional fibers to make a prototype electronic textile patch, which if hooked to a power source could help power electronic devices in the fabric.
There will doubtlessly be plenty of worthy applications for high-strength, electronically active fibers, says Wade Adams, a nanotechnology expert at Rice University in Houston. But he says the most impressive part of the new work is the fibers' strength. "Getting that kind of toughness is pretty cool." Don't expect to suit up anytime soon, though. Single-shelled carbon nanotubes--the type in the new threads--currently cost $350 a gram. That would make a 1-kilogram nanofiber suit cost a cool $350,000.