May
16
2005

Carbon can be stronger than a speeding bullet

Carbon atoms join together in different ways. Three common forms of carbon are soot, graphite, and diamond. Now, some new types of carbon are going to have important applications in our lives. In one, a layer of graphite is rolled up into a tube and becomes what is referred to as a nanotube. In the other-fullerine-the atoms join into a sphere similar to two of Bucky Fuller's geodesic domes joined together.

The bonds holding carbon atoms together in a nanotube are even stronger than those in a diamond. The force required to break a nanotube needs to be about twenty times that needed to break kevlar fibers. (Kevlar is used in bulletproof vests.) A cable made from nanotubes might some day be used to make a space elevator. Such an elevator will allow getting to outer space without rockets!

A new type of video display is being developed using nanotubes. Microscopic nanotubes will emit electrons toward a phosphorescent screen similar to television picture tubes except the screens only need to be a fraction of an inch thick. These displays are known as Field Emission Displays (FEDs). Such thin but large TVs are projected to be available by the end of 2006.

Scientists at the University of North Carolina have also discovered that nanotubes can also be used to emit x-rays. Dr. Otto Zhou, distinguished professor of physics and materials sciences at UNC, said that, "this technology can lead to smaller and faster X-ray imaging systems for airport baggage screening...If it works as well as we think it will, other advantages will be that scanners will be cheaper, use less electricity and produce higher-resolution images."

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