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Science

Yarn Spun from Nanotubes 152

Posted by michael
from the spiderman dept.
jabberjaw writes "Nature is reporting that Professor Alan H Windle has spun nanotube yarn by twisting nanotubes onto spinning rods as they come out of the furnace from which they are made. Professor Windle's team used ethanol (carbon source) with ferrocene (catalyst) and thiopene (for thread assembly) to create the structure. To create the tubes a mix of the above chemicals is inserted into a furnace in a jet of hydrogen gas. However, do not get your hopes up yet, the press release also indicates that the yarn has a strength comparable to that of most modern textiles but the groups does state that there is room for improvement. Yes, for those of you wondering, there is mention of a space elevator."
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Yarn Spun from Nanotubes

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  • At last! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hayzeus (596826) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:29AM (#8543246) Homepage
    Granny can now knit me that virtually invulnerable monitor cozy I've always wanted!
    • Re:At last! (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      What do you think Superman's cape is made from? He's only wearing that because he hates the hideous sweater he got one Christmas.
  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:29AM (#8543249) Homepage Journal

    Last Monday I caught a sweater on something at work. I remember plain as day muttering "Damn wool and its inherent weaknesses! My fashion woes would be eliminated if someone would come up with a way to feed a mixture of ethanol and catalytic ferrocene with a splash of thiopene into a hydrogen gas furnace..."
    What's David Boies' phone number?
    • by mykepredko (40154) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:34AM (#8543289) Homepage
      You realize of course that if you had such a sweater, it would cut through anything it snagged on.

      You're probably thinking that probably isn't a bad thing - the world would become a much smoother place (and safe for traditional textiles). But everytime I put on a knitted sweater, a part of me gets snagged or caught in part of the sweater.

      Personally, I don't want to get any smoother.

      myke
      • by dpilot (134227) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:46AM (#8543413) Homepage Journal
        After reading some other nanotube story, I was cooking that night and musing about nanotubes in food preparation...

        Imagine a rectangular frame with nanotubes forming a grid or just parallel lines. Drop an egg through the frame, and it falls through the bottom sliced. Drop a potato through the frame, and (uncooked) french fries fall out the bottom.

        Forget what you're doing when you handle it, and take pieces of your fingers to the hospital for reattachment.
        • I'm looking forward to your career as the Ron Popeil of the new Millenium!

          myke
          • I think a better (?) model than Ron Popeil would be Dan Ackroyd's impression of Julia Childs on SNL. (For those who a-are too young, b-don't remember, c-never watched SNL in its prime, the skit involved knife accidents while cooking, and copious use of stage blood.)
        • by Cruciform (42896) on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:05AM (#8543556) Homepage
          "BAM!!! Oh shit..."
        • Re:Stole my idea... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by F34nor (321515) * on Friday March 12, 2004 @12:52PM (#8544846)
          Do you know how they slice potatoes for French fries now? High pressure water. One word: foamy.

          They optimize them on a high-speed conveyer belt that has rows of optical sensors with hydraulically fired knifes. As the fry passes under the sensor it optimizes the fry length and fires a hydraulic piston with a rubber hinge attached to a curved blade, the speed that the piston fires at flexes the rubber hinge so that as it springs back it's speed matches belt. This prevents the fries from being fired off the belt by the knifes. It also accounts for starch build up on the system. All pistons are hot swappable. One of these machines can do all the fries for a region of the country. This is an example of precision motion control software mated to good mechanical engineering.

          I think you stole the idea from Frank Herbert's Shiga wire or Arthur C. Clarck's Diamond fiber. ;)
      • by Anonymous Coward
        But everytime I put on a knitted sweater, a part of me gets snagged or caught in part of the sweater

        I'd be more worried about trousers made of this stuff...

      • Re:Stole my idea... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Short Circuit (52384)
        That brings up an important point: Nanotubes can be expected to be carcinogenic.

        They're essentially really sharp needles that could poke through anything they touch. Including the nucleus of cells in the body.
      • But everytime I put on a knitted sweater, a part of
        me gets snagged or caught in part of the sweater.
        Next time, try pulling on the sweater head-first.
  • by Channard (693317) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:30AM (#8543254) Journal
    .. the one that apparently was so tight it nearly choked Jeri Ryan on set. The Nanotubes, cap'n.. they cannae hold!
  • next generation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pvt_medic (715692) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:31AM (#8543266)
    this could nicely lead to next generation of armor especially bullet proof vests.
  • Thiopene? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:32AM (#8543273)
    Not this time...

    thiophene ... one letter makes a big difference in chemistry

    IAAC - I am a chemist
  • by Matey-O (518004) * <michaeljohnmiller@mSPAMsSPAMnSPAM.com> on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:32AM (#8543275) Homepage Journal
    There were these carbon molecules in a Erlinmeyer flask. They wanted to see the world in a way no other carbon molecules had before. So they held hands and created a buckeyball....

    Well, maybe not an interesting yarn for YOU, Carbon based Ugly bag of mostly-water, but the little carbonettes just EAT these stories up!
  • by v_1_r_u_5 (462399) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:32AM (#8543276)
    If you thought politicians were bad, now even NANOTUBES are spinning yarn.
  • by bcolflesh (710514) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:33AM (#8543285) Homepage
    • And if you're a new fan of nanotubes, here's a potentially revolutionary application: a space elevator. [www.isr.us] Too bad about the crappy material properties of this nanotube thread. I really thought at first this might be our big break towards really affordable space travel.
  • Expensive sweater (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dustmote (572761) <fleck55&hotmail,com> on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:33AM (#8543286) Homepage Journal
    I can only imagine that this would make one of the most expensive sweaters ever. What are the insulating properties of nanotubes? We may not have the tensile strength available to us at a macro level, but if they have good insulation properties, this yarn may be somewhat commercially viable in certain niche applications as-is. Y'think? Then again, are they flammable? That might be bad.
    • Then again, are they flammable? That might be bad.

      That didn't stop most people from wearing polyester in the 70s. Let's party.
    • Re:Expensive sweater (Score:5, Informative)

      by SB9876 (723368) on Friday March 12, 2004 @12:01PM (#8544226)
      Hard to say what the insulating properties of nanotubes might be. Insulation in fabric has less to do with the fibers and more to do with the way that it traps a layer of static air next to you. OTOH, nanotubes don't carry heat well (if at all, I seem to recall that the tube radius is to small to carry phonons radially) across the fibers but along their length, they should be one of the most effective heat conductors in existence.

      As for flammability, what you need to watch out for is the fact that they're optically unstable. Someone found out that if you try and takea flash picture of them, they spontaneously combust in a rather explosive manner.

      I can see a nanotube sweater at a family get together right now:

      "OK, everybody, say cheese!"

      "NO WAIT, NOOOOO!"

      FOOM!
      • That would be bad for the space elevator as well. I can see the "No taking pictures or throwing lightning at space elevator" messages already. I would not want to be caught in an elevator at 3 km height with a fire starting below as well. 3 km is a long way to fall. Of course, you might actually fall up if it is cut loose below. Talking about a novice way of going into space - how did you get here? Oh I simply fell up.
  • by smoondog (85133) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:34AM (#8543295)
    Getting a space elevator mentioned in Nature is huge, whether or not it is a viable project. It will help give it the exposure it needs to get debated on whether it is a viable project by people that could actually help get it off the ground.

    -Sean
    • by bennomatic (691188) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:42AM (#8543367) Homepage
      > that could actually help get it off the ground.

      Mod parent up "+1 Pun Intended"!

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:45AM (#8543402) Homepage
      Getting a space elevator mentioned in Nature is huge, whether or not it is a viable project. It will help give it the exposure it needs to get debated on whether it is a viable project by people that could actually help get it off the ground.

      I hope it isn't premature. I worry about generating a lot of hype about an elevator, and then have it go nowhere, or have a high-profile experiment/test fail. I don't want to see it go the way of cold fusion, where everyone knows what it is, and thinks its a joke, so you can never get funding for it again.
      • by bfree (113420) on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:55AM (#8544140)
        The Space Elevator idea is quite safe from becoming a joke until someone announces "I have a material strong enough to build a space elevator". Then you will see the put or or shut-up moment for it's proponents but up until then it is theoretical. I think it is important for research to continue into the logistics of space elevators but until we have a potential material it's an aspiration. I just hope that if/when we find a meterial we can find the techniques to turn it into a space elevator. Of course it is possible that someone will figure out a way to build a space elevator that doesn't require as strong a material but I think at present it all hangs on the material researchers. When they solve their problems the engineers will have to come in and see if they can turn a theoretical idea with a plauible material into an actual workable installation plan (just cause you can make a material in a lab doesn't mean you can produce the quantities required on site).
      • Yea, but cold fusion is considered impossible. A space elevator is just prohibatively expensive and we don't have the technology yet. However, both those things will change eventually.
  • Oh great.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by hookedup (630460) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:35AM (#8543302)

    So next time someone snaps my picture. [slashdot.org], my sweater will explode.

    Very amusing...
  • I wonder if clothing made from this stuff would be itchy. Like wool.

  • Its even less useful then normal yarn at this point. None of the strength and non of the conductivity.
  • by toesate (652111) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:36AM (#8543316) Homepage Journal
    Just curious... given a rope so strong, how would one untie or cut it if it is entangled.

    Quite scary to be tied by such a rope.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      kevlar is a funny material.

      it is a really strong fibre that can stop bullets when you make a vest out of it, but a knife will slide right through it and kill the wearer.

      just because an item has a strong tensile strength doesn't mean it can't be cut.
    • It's not that hard to cut nanotubes. I imagine a knife or sharp rock would do nicely on this stuff, seeing as nanotubes grown from ethanol are usually full of defects (yay oxygen).

      Remember, they have high tensile strength, not a high shear strength. We cut nanotubes all the time in our lab, using a silicon atomic force microscope tip (think tiny, tiny silicon record player).

      On the other hand, it would be a pain to be tied up in nanotubes. They might stretch a little, but good luck breaking it.
  • Not so fast spanky (Score:2, Informative)

    by stratjakt (596332)
    But it's not clear whether the method will ever produce fibres as strong as the individual nanotubes that comprise them: to do that, each nanotube would need to be as long as the entire fibre.

    Nanotube is just another buzzword. Nothing special has been invented yet. The article says these are no stronger than regular textile fibers (like nylon, I assume).

  • Meh... A good step forward, but what I really want to hear is that fullerene clothing is being made. That would be pretty high on the holy-crap-this-is-cool scale. For any who don't get this, read through the archives on schlockmercenary.com [schlockmercenary.com]
  • by Channard (693317) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:37AM (#8543330) Journal
    'Professor Windle and his Nano-Spindle' - I can see the merchandising possibilities stretch for miles..
  • i'm a knitter, a very low-maintenance knitter. screw wool! i want a nanotube cashmerino blend with eyelashes that glow in the dark that can be washed with all-temperature cheer and dried in the dryer. i'd make more ponchos and wrist warmers and leg warmers than you could stand! nanotube science, take me away!
  • What's it like? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Woogiemonger (628172) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:40AM (#8543356)
    Well, they say although it's cheaper than kevlar, it's one tenth as strong. A cop might be up for wearing ten nanoyarn sweaters though if they're comfy enough.
  • Farnsworth: Don't worry, the fat pig will do fine thanks to this flabbo-dynamic spandex bodysuit I've designed. It redistributes his weight, shifting his centre of gravity closer to his knees. Hermes: Ooh that's snug! *creak* Oh. Those haven't descended in years.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:44AM (#8543390)
    This could well be interesting stuff even if it is no
    stronger than current polymers. The advantage may well
    arise from its ability to retain its strength
    at high temperatures which current threads do not.
    UV resistance would be another big win.
    • And it's thickness.
      How thick would a textile made of this be compared to one of similar strenght made out of nylon?
      And it's resistance to chemicals. Oils, acids and saltwater are really bad for nylon.

      If it's really thin, light and UV resistant, you could make parachutes that packs really small! =)
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Strength is usually expressed in terms of force per
        cross sectional area. To say that the new yarn has
        the same as the one implies "for the same thickness".
  • by memmel2 (660484) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:45AM (#8543397)
    Intresting with a lot of work on the spinneret this may improve rapidly. Also we have a lot of experience in this area so refining the process is not new tech. Sort of like with inkjet printers or spiders the magic is in the nozzle. I think using electrostatic nozzles may be intresting

  • by Rob Riggs (6418) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:46AM (#8543407) Homepage Journal
    Yes, it is early in the morning, but that's how I first parsed it.

    Mmmmm... yams.

    • Thank goodness I wasn't the only one who read it that way. But I blame poor kerning [freetype.org] . One of these days my Linux distro will get a real set of fonts that pays attention to type hints.

      When I was a kid, there was nothing better than candied yams. Couldn't get enough of them. Then one day, I either overdosed on 'em, or my tastebuds changed. Now I can't stand them.

      It's a pity; it's one of the few foods where it's considered acceptable to cook with mini-marshmallows.

      I yam what I yam. - Popeye

  • by onyxruby (118189) * <.onyxruby. .at. .comcast.net.> on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:48AM (#8543427)
    Grandmothers delight as they learn that they can now make a sweater that is immune to all those mysterious things that keep plaguing all the other sweaters previously given to their grandchildren.
    • by CriX (628429)
      Hmm... ya know, I wonder what an all carbon sweater would feel like? I guess it would be super light, but even with a conductivity 1/10 that of copper it would probably not work too well at keeping you warm. I imagine the conductivity of cotton has got to be a couple order of magnitudes less.

      Maybe if they reduced the size of the threads you might be able to make a really great wind-breaker? Just some ideas.
  • by scrytch (9198) <chuck@myrealbox.com> on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:02AM (#8543525)
    Given the toughness and other properties of carbon nanotubes, does the dust tend to be like graphite, and reasonably safe as an inhalation hazard (being heavy and all), or has any kind of toxicology testing been done with them? I'd hate to see carbon nanotube fragments becoming the next asbestos.
    • Not sure but at this point in time the only people who have to worry are the ones making them in labs, and let me tell you the stuff used in most processes is a LOT more dangerous than casual exposure to asbestos. Benzene isolation was the fist method used to extract Buckminsterfullerenes for example, Benzene will kill you a lot faster than asbestos =)
    • by phiala (680649) on Friday March 12, 2004 @12:43PM (#8544714)
      Given the toughness and other properties of carbon nanotubes, does the dust tend to be like graphite, and reasonably safe as an inhalation hazard (being heavy and all), or has any kind of toxicology testing been done with them? I'd hate to see carbon nanotube fragments becoming the next asbestos.

      Unfortunately nanotubes appear to be much more toxic than graphite (at least particular kinds of nanotubes, and for inhalation), leading to lung damage of types unexpected by the scientists doing the research.

      I recently read a popular summary somewhere but of course don't remember exactly where. There's a fairly technical (but not unreadable) summary at from Toxicological Sciences [oupjournals.org] available online. (I think that's a freely available article.)

    • They are a component of ordinary soot. I've never heard any big health scares about soot, so there's a definite upper limit on how toxic they could possibly be.

      -
      • Ever hear of the London Killer Fog? Thousands dead from soot... that would qualify as a scare to me.

        But seriously, a lot of people worry about "PM2.5" (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) potentially being the major component of air pollution leading to chronic (as versus acute) death - there is still controversy in the area though. Look up "Six Cities Study" and the HEI reanalysis [healtheffects.org]

        It is true that nanotubes and buckyballs are found in ordinary soot: however, at very low concentration

  • These guys [nanotech.org] are using nanotubes to create a quantum computer.
  • by Myriad (89793) <myriad@NosPAm.thebsod.com> on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:08AM (#8543567) Homepage
    Nature is reporting that Professor Alan H Windle has spun nanotube yarn by twisting nanotubes onto spinning rods as they come out of the furnace from which they are made.

    Making clothes out of this 'yarn' may not be such a good idea... wear it out to picture day and you may be going home burned and naked! [rpi.edu]

    Blockwars [blockwars.com]: free, multiplayer, head-to-head Tetris like game

  • Buzzwordium (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Iowaguy (621828) on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:14AM (#8543615)
    What amazes me is that we never seem to learn. As a scientist, I see this scenerio played out over and over. Someone discovers something new and kinda cool. Then, in the ferver of excitement that follows, the sun, moon and stars are promised. Much activity occurs. Some progress is made. Real work gets done. But, at the end of the day, we have no sun, moon, and stars.

    Carbon nanotubes are an interesting discovery, but making them in adundance is non-trivial. Forming them into useful macro structures is also not well understood, to put it mildly. I hate to break it to you, but there will be no space elevator, at least any time soon.

    This irrational exuberance of science tends to hurt more than help. Becuase when someone promises the world and then doesn't deliver. It hurts the entire discipline in the way of funding cuts by politicians who feel burned for beleiving the hype. Just some perspective.

    My two cents,
    -Iowa
    • Carbon nanotubes are an interesting discovery, but making them in adundance is non-trivial. Forming them into useful macro structures is also not well understood, to put it mildly.
      This is why I found this rather interesting. Carbon nanotubes are somewhat difficult to work with from what I gather and the ability to manipulate them in such a way as to make this yarn is a step forward.
      I hate to break it to you, but there will be no space elevator, at least any time soon. Although I added the space eleva
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:18AM (#8543674)
    Before everyone gets the idea of dressing up Jerry Ryan in ultra tight nonotube fabrics I would like to point out that this material is not properly investigated regarding toxicity. Even a brief look on the net will show that it is quite possible it has similar properties as asbestos fibres, and that is not nice.
    • by fnj (64210)
      Carbon nanotubes are just carbon. Carbon is not toxic.

      Asbestos is not toxic either. Toxins work by chemical poisoning. Asbestos works its harm via mechanical damage on a microscopic scale.
  • Whats it look like? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kindofblue (308225) on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:20AM (#8543697)
    I remember hearing something about how buckeyballs, or some nano-structure, absorbs photons very easily and that it ignites like flash powder. But I don't remember any details.

    Anybody know what a mass of nanotubes looks like? And buckeyballs? Soot, which is black, contains lots of buckeyballs I think. And diamonds are colorless. So how would the nanotube structure affect the color?

    • Can't talk to buckytubes, but back in the day when I worked at Bell Labs (yeah, a LONG time ago) buckyballs looked odd. :-) In powdered form, it was black soot all the way, but what was cool was in solution, it was purple. And when it dried out from being in solution? Yellow. Very strange stuff.

      We were making transistors out of the little buggers, just to see what would happen...
  • Space elevators (Score:5, Interesting)

    by XNormal (8617) on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:38AM (#8543923) Homepage
    I can't seem to find it now, but Jordin Kare (of LLNL) had a nice presentation showing that a space elevator isn't really any cheaper than a RLV - even under when the space elevator assumes not-yet-existent materials like carbon nanotube composites with tensile strength approaching that of the raw fiber and the RLV is built only using existing technology.

    Many proponents of certain technologies forget to take into account that hypothetical advancements required for their favorite technology will also benefit competing technologies. For example - carbon nanotube composites will make superb structural material for a high fuel fraction RLV, and it doesn't take tens of thousands of kilometers of the stuff.
    • Re:Space elevators (Score:3, Informative)

      by burgundy (53979)
      Here's a link to the presentation by Jordin Kare you're thinking about: http://www.isr.us/spaceelevatorconference/pdf/Kare /Workshop2_kare.pdf [www.isr.us]. One point he makes is that, to a large degree, propellent costs are irrelevant to the economics of lifting payloads to earth orbits. Space elevators satisfy a desire for technological elegance we all share, but they don't really seem so interesting when you examine their economics.
      • actually the big keywords here are, safety and extremely cheap reusability.

        with a space elevator, you are no longer violently launching payloads atop huge liquid fueled bombs.

        lose a single vehicle (and payload) and you've just about paid for a space elevator.

        no propellant, no stages, no boosters = smaller, cheaper, safer vehicle.

        imho worth it, especially considering the value of human life!

        Kare is also making a lot of blind assumptions. i like his assumption about powering the climbers (lasers? uh, mmk
      • Now I'm trying to figure out why I couldn't find it in a few minutes of googling...

    • I'd be surprised if Kare took the RETURN into proper account. Riding an elevator down a gravity well is CHEAP. Especially if we're mining in space..where it would be good to allow for many more "returns" than launches.
    • Re:Space elevators (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Idarubicin (579475)
      I can't seem to find it now, but Jordin Kare (of LLNL) had a nice presentation showing that a space elevator isn't really any cheaper than a RLV - even under when the space elevator assumes not-yet-existent materials like carbon nanotube composites with tensile strength approaching that of the raw fiber and the RLV is built only using existing technology.

      Yes, but such a cheap RLV is also not-yet-existent. Yes, I'd be pleased to see a cheap RLV, but there would be problems once we really start to use the

  • Ethanol (Score:2, Funny)

    by nick.cash (749516)
    Windle's team used ethanol (carbon source) with ferrocene (catalyst) and thiopene (for thread assembly)

    Whenever I start my experiments with ethanol, they end in the hospital...
  • "It's cheap and the ethanol feedstock can be made from renewable resources."
    -- Alan Windle University of Cambridge
  • So this filament is superstrong and can cut thru stuff? Guess all we need is a way to attach a mooring point and we can build that Ringworld thing.
  • This won't create strong materials. He's not splicing carbon nanotubes together end to end, which has a chance of preserving the strength. He's just taking short nanotubes, basically lint, and twisting them together. That's orders of magnitude weaker, and far easier.
    • Yeah, it's not clear to me how nanotubes could ever be used to make a strong macro material. Aren't these things slippery? Unless the nanotube is as long as your rope (or whatever), how do you make the rope stronger than however you hold together the nanotubes? Epoxy is not going to do it.

      How about branching networks of nanotubes? Has anyone made branching nanotubes? Tiny patches of carbon lace that intersect multiple other patches might be strong on a macro scale.

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