Yarn Spun from Nanotubes

Process seen as way to produce cheaper carbon fibers

Published: 12-Mar-2004

Scientists have spun long, rope-like fibres from nanotubes. Their environmentally friendly method could be tweaked to make high-strength threads for use in engineering. The long ropes could even lead to futuristic applications such as a space elevator.

Alan Windle and colleagues at the University of Cambridge, UK, made their tiny twisted ropes by winding freshly made nanotubes onto spinning rods as they came out of a furnace. The nanotubes are hollow strands of carbon just 30 millionths of a millimetre or so wide — around 5,000 times thinner than a human hair.

The resulting threads may be tiny but they have the potential to be exceptionally strong. Scientists are seriously considering whether ultra-strong nanotube fibres might be used to tether space platforms to the surface of the Earth, allowing 'space elevators' to lift satellites out of Earth's gravitational field without the vast expense of blasting them up there.

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