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Space Science Technology

Rice Contracted to Provide NASA's Quantum Wire 211

Posted by timothy
from the soon-will-be-in-vending-machines-for-a-nickel dept.
geekman writes "NASA is paying Rice University $11 million to build a prototype quantum wire that can conduct electricity 10 times better than traditional copper cables at one-sixth the weight. Rice has four years to build a one-meter-long quantum wire, which will be made out of carbon nanotubes. Seems like a lot of money for a little wire, but then again, all the rocket scientists at Los Alamos have only ever been able to put together a four-centimeter nanotube."
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Rice Contracted to Provide NASA's Quantum Wire

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:37PM (#12366843)
    Is that they never seem to be where you left them. Although on a good day you'll end up with more than you started with depending on what universe you're in.
  • by scottv67 (731709) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:38PM (#12366847)
    Seems like a lot of money for a little wire,

    Yeah, but it's still cheaper than Monster Cable.

    ;^)
    • An erudite piece on Monster Cable, their products, business strategies, ethics, &c.:

      Linkage [somethingawful.com].

      A quote from within said piece to entice your fancy:

      Of course these wires cost nearly as much as the DVD player itself, even more if you include the Monster-brand power filtration adapting converter unit which instantly converts your cash into lines of high grade Columbian cocaine for the company's CEO.

    • Lemme see $11M/m x 15000km x 50 strands... Vokkov Bill Gates go stand in the poor people's line.
      • by serutan (259622) <snoopdoug AT geekazon DOT com> on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @11:50PM (#12368396) Homepage
        The space elevator people at LiftPort expect carbon nanotubes of unlimited length to be available and cost-effective in 13 years. Whether they're right or not is anybody's guess, but the progress from a few nanometers to a few centimeters is 4 orders of magnitude in 4 years -- leaves Moore's law in the dust. Just 3 more orders of magnitude and they'll be in the tens of meters, and at that point I bet they'll be able to make them pretty much any length they want.
  • How long... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Evanisincontrol (830057) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:39PM (#12366855)
    How long until some eccentric billionaire pays Rice to wire his entire house with that stuff?

    "My house is iced out with quantam wiring, biatch. Or something. Bling bling."
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:42PM (#12366886) Homepage

    NASA is paying Rice University $11 million
    Rice has four years to build a one-meter-long quantum wire,

    Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to put out a bounty on this wire? Instead of the four year plan, you get the "everyone scrambling to complete it first" plan, and as a bonus, even when someone collects the bounty, all the research done by other institutions still stands.

    • Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to put out a bounty on this wire?

      Not really, too much risk. It's an unevaluated process. Besides, how many companies would enter? Ten, 150? You've got better chances winning the world poker tour. Bottom line, everyone who isn't first place gets burned and left with a huge bill, no patents, and no $11Million.
    • by aptenergy (688428) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:54PM (#12367005)
      Sure, but most universities won't have the experience to do it. Smalley won the Nobel Prize for his work with buckyballs (carbon-60, buckminsterfullerene, fullerene); carbon nanotubes are rods with essentially the same structure as buckyballs (the capped ends are two halves of a fullerene, iirc). Rice is obviously a leading pioneer in the field, nanotubes are Rice's specialty, and there's no reason to have a bounty when you have a Nobel Prize winner working on it.
    • And where would the universities get the upfront funding to hire students and researchers to do the work?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I've heard that Rice is one of the most productive sources of research into nanotechnology. They've gotten this grant because they are qualified for it. This isn't something that you can do without funding so if there were a bounty all of the competitors would still need large grants in order to do the research.

      Also the bounty would result in even more infighting than is usually seen in the scientific community.
    • good point, but nows the RnD is being done with public money. this means the data will be public, and then anyone can take the info and start there own company.
      If it was a bounty, companies would retain the rights to not only the carbon tube, but the process and discoveries which could have other applications.
    • Isn't that the sort of thing that the patent system was originally intended to promote? Where the "bounty" is the short-term monopoly on your invention...
    • Very simple: Universities won't put down the $10 million or so that it takes to complete this project without knowing for sure that they will be paid back.
    • by fermion (181285) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:14PM (#12367628) Homepage Journal
      This is called "basic research." It probably won't work, and if it does, will be far beyond even a VC event horizon.

      Any money for this would come from the government through the grant writing process. The number of labs who have a C-60 reactor, and have good control over it, are still reletively small. Not to mention the ability to characterize and sort.

      This is not like, say, the space plane, in which most technology is 5-10 years old and all that was required was a bit of money for engineering. These are molecules that really do not yet exist in huge quanities, and putting them together is not well understood. Hell, even the theory of how they conduct electricity is younger that superconductors, and just see how many of those we have around.

      Rice and NASA have a very good working relationship. Rice has some of the best people to deal this type of Nanotechnology, plus enough other funding to leverage this small amount of money into a working product.

      • Relativly small amount of money? Whats in your wallet?

        When I think nanotech Rice isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind.
      • by Impeesa (763920) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @01:57AM (#12368972)
        Hell, even the theory of how they conduct electricity is younger that superconductors, and just see how many of those we have around.

        As an aside, superconductivity is now very well understood. It's just that the race for a room-temperature superconductor has stalled out. In those fields where they can afford to keep the superconductors below critical temperature (e.g. NMR/MRI machines), superconductors are very widely used.

        Fun fact: If you accidentally press Enter while typing in the subject line, your message is submitted as-is.
      • Good point. I'd like to add once cheap mass production seems in range, venture capital will show up:
        Cables like this might far outperform copper as winding in electric motors or loudspeakers. That is a big, existing market where better cable could make an immediate difference.
    • I think that this type of research would be better funded through the Department of Energy or the National Science Foundation or DARPA. Certainly quantum wire would be useful in construction of spacecraft, but I think NASA should be focused more on space exploration. In other words, building spacecraft with existing technologies or tech that is likely to be feasible in the near term.
    • Yeah, it would make more sense, but that's not the way research is done.

      That money isn't a reward or a bounty, like the X prize, it's money that's going to be used right now to fund the research. There's very few other places that they're going to get the money to fund themselves, no venture capital or investments.

      The goal in science is not to make money, it's to do great research. Other people are scrambling to do it first, and they've been given they're own funding.
    • PhysicsPhairy: Surely with a name like that you're familiar with the way academia works. Paying a bounty for a development worked well for things like the X-prize, but it basically attracts high-rollers with a dream looking for some recognition. The prize wasn't as large as the total expenditure of the winning team, and the losing teams are simply out of luck, financially speaking.

      Primary research is both time consuming and expensive. When looking at a long-term, money intensive projects, requiring a t

  • by Timesprout (579035) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:42PM (#12366888)
    how are they supposed to land on quantum power lines!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:43PM (#12366896)
    Condi Rice can build anything, she is one of the jewels in Bush's hat.

    Don't tell me you didn't misread the title at first either!
  • Are nanotubes really quantum? They're very small, but I don't think they're actually at the quantum level of physics.
    • Ballistic Conduction (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DumbSwede (521261)
      I believe this refers to the ballistic conduction that takes place in carbon nano-tubes and is a quantum phenomenon. Basically electrons experience a small resistance entering and leaving a nano-tube, but then near zero resistance travelling along them.
      • There was a theory that carbon nanotubes would support Cooper pairs (if impurities were added).
        Described in this paper [arxiv.org].
    • Re:wait a second... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Goldsmith (561202) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @08:03PM (#12367090)
      Yes, they are.

      A metallic carbon nanotube carries 4 quanta of current (4 charge carriers at a time): 2 conducting channels, 2 spins per channel. That's what NASA is referring to as a quantum wire.

      Most of the resistance in such a wire is due to the fact that only a very few number of charge carriers can be transmitted at any time. The electrons going through the wire do not lose any energy in the wire, as there are no available lower energy states for them scatter into, and only two possible directions of motion (foward and backward). Thus, a perfect nanotube can be thought of as a "ballistic" conductor. There is some resistance to putting current into it and getting it back out, but in between, there is no resistance in the normal sense. (Although this sounds a little like superconductivity, it is definitely not.)

      In a real nanotube, there are defects, contact resistances, impurities and environmental factors which act as transmission barriers, raising the probablility that an injected electron will reflect back to the source and not make it all the way through. It will be interesting to see how the Rice guys plan on annealing or growing their meter long wire to maintain the desired properties (and that's where the money comes in). Simply weaving a bunch of small nanotubes together is not going to cut it.
      • A metallic carbon nanotube carries 4 quanta of current (4 charge carriers at a time): 2 conducting channels, 2 spins per channel. That's what NASA is referring to as a quantum wire. Most of the resistance in such a wire is due to the fact that only a very few number of charge carriers can be transmitted at any time. The electrons going through the wire do not lose any energy in the wire, as there are no available lower energy states for them scatter into, and only two possible directions of motion (foward

      • If you can get a charge running forever around a ring of quantum wire, could this mean room temperature 10T magnets?

        No more liquid helium!

        Or is there something I'm missing here?
        • In a real superconductor, any magnetic fields are expelled from the metal, that doesn't happen in a nanotube (at least as far as I know).

          So for a superconductor "turned on" in a magnetic field, a balance is reached between the current and the magnetic field. The current and the resulting countering magnetic field are retained even when the original field is turned off. That effect is what keeps the current flowing forever, if it were to stop, the magnetic field excluded by the metal would change and viol
      • Simply weaving a bunch of small nanotubes together is not going to cut it.

        Yes, but think of the scarf you could knit... Maybe throw in a matching fullerene watch cap.

  • uh oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by fred fleenblat (463628) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:46PM (#12366927) Homepage
    carbon nanotubes...that's awfully similar to the Inanimate Carbon Rod.
  • by Tiger4 (840741) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:46PM (#12366928)
    " all the rocket scientists at Los Alamos have only ever been able to put together a four-centimeter nanotube."

    They're nuclear scientists, not rocket scientists, dammit. Give'em a break!

    • Levity aside, just remember how much trouble Corning (or whoever it was) had extruding their first fiber optics. The quality was crap, the production cost obscene. Everybody thought the technology was pie-in-the-sky unattainable. Then they got their manufacturing technique down and now we're awash in the stuff.

      Wait a couple of decades and this carbon nanotube shit will be everywhere, notwithstanding the crudity of these initial experiments. Superconducting electric motors/turbines would be nice, for s

  • by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann.slashdot@NOspam.gmail.com> on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:53PM (#12366991) Homepage Journal
    For those who didn't read the past article on quantum wires [slashdot.org], here it is.

    And for those who don't know what an armchair nanotube is, here are some images [mtu.edu] (The armchair nanotube is the one in the middle).
  • by Future Man 3000 (706329) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @07:59PM (#12367056) Homepage
    Which approach they will take towards crafting this wire. It's almost a given they'll use carbon nanotubes because of the ballistic conduction property that will permit arbitrary-lengthed wires to pass electricity without resistance, but will they go with a singlewalled CNT or will they sacrifice perfect conductivity for stability and go with a multiwalled CNT?

    These things could be the next revolution after fiber optics for network communication, so there is reason to be excited. I wonder if there would be too much interference to run these things in a twisted pair configuration.

    • Your post reads very much like some techno-babble from Star Trek. I can't tell for sure whether you actually have an intelligent post, or whether you are just doing an exceptional job of faking out the moderators. Either way, bravo ;-)
  • Go Owls (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @08:05PM (#12367107)
    I'm sitting about three blocks from the Rice Campus & I'm a Rice grad, so pardon me for cheering 'em on.

    This actually makes (some) sense - Dick Smalley & Robert Curl on the Rice faculty (and a 3rd guy in England) won that trivial little prize - the Nobel in Chemistry for basically inventing/discovering the buckyball and related carbon nano stuff - or something like that. I also seem to recall that Smalley also has done pretty well in acually being able to manufacture buckyballs.

    Also, there is a long history of collaberation between NASA and Rice. Starting before the Apollo program. I had a professor at Rice who designed experiment packages that went to the moon in the Apollo program.

    So, if NASA was going to award a contract or grant to somebody for this, Rice does make some sense.

    Also, kind of interesting that President Kennedy gave the famous speech "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..." on the Rice campus.
  • by andrewzx1 (832134) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @08:06PM (#12367116) Homepage Journal
    If Nobel lareat Smalley and his lab can build a proof of concept of the Carbon nanotube superwire, it would be worth far more than a few million $. This kind of technology would seriously revolutionize Western society. With a super wire you can build electic motors that are both many times stronger at the same power, and are much more efficient. The resulting stepping motors would revolutionize robotics. The wires would change how we deliver power, and even possibly, basic electrical circuitry. Imagine high current density superconductor wires at room temperature.

    Carbon nanotubules, when properly, manufactured could also have very high tensile strength. Many times stronger than stranded steel cable and weighing less as well. This is the technology people what it use to build the space elevator.

    Of course, after proof of concept there are still many challenges to cost effective manufacturing.

    There are a dozen revolutionary uses for super wires. But first we need a proof of concept. FYI - I'm looking for a job at a well-funded nanotech startup. Many qualificiations, inquire within!

    • Could you please explain what you mean by increasing strength (torque?) at a given power? Do you mean for a given size of motor, you can have higher torques and lower rpms? I know that electric motor efficiencies are as high as 95% so the only way to get "many times" higher torques for a given power is to lower angular velocity. Additionally, how will they make electric motors much more efficient (again given electric motors are already commonly 80-90%+)? I assume you are talking about squeezing out an
      • The main limitations on electic motors is heat - the wires will melt once you start pushing too much power.

        With more conductive wires, you can get higher currents and thus higher power for the same size motor. Losses will be about the same becasue you'll just scale your motors to a suitable heat level again.

        Higher power/weight ratios will make everything else that uses them lighter and more efficient.
    • by ramblin billy (856838) <defaultaddy@yahoo.com> on Thursday April 28, 2005 @01:18AM (#12368796)

      The dudes at Rice invented 3 of the 4 current methods for producing buckytubes. Their current research involves the use of catalysts applied to the end of existing tubes which results in "cloning" the tube, allowing for unprecedented control of the tubes characteristics. Here [house.gov] are some of Smalley's comments on buckytubes...

      "These single walled carbon nanotubes are uniquely specified by two small integers, n and m. The diameter is roughly proportional to the sum, n+m. The electronic properties, however, are determined by the difference, n-m. If n and m are the same, then n-m=0 and the tube conducts electrons like a perfect metal. In the trade it is called and "arm-chair" tube. Electrons move down this tube as a coherent quantum particle, traveling down the tube much like a photon of light travels down a single mode optic fiber. Individual armchair tubes can conduct as much as 20 microamps of current. This doesn't sound like much until you realize that his little molecular wire is only 1 nanometer in diameter. A half inch thick cable made of these tubes aligned parallel to each other along the cable, would have over 100 trillion conductors packed side-by-side like pipes in a hardware store. If each of these tubes carried only one microamp, only 2 percent of its capacity, the half inch thick cable would be carrying one hundred millions amps of current. Fabricating such a cable - we call it the "armchair quantum wire" - is a prime objective of our work."

      Buckytubes exceed the strength of carbon fiber (30 to 100 times that of steel), the thermal transfer ability of diamonds, and are the best electrical conductor of any molecule known. They promise great advances not only for the transmission of energy, but also for energy storage (including hydrogen), composite fabrics, and even solar power. The world's leading producer of buckytubes is Carbon Nanotechnologies Incorporated [cnanotech.com], a Houston based spin-off from Rice. In the computer category, IBM [ibm.com] has already announced the successful manufacture of buckytube transistors. It may not be all that long until we start to see some real world applications that begin to fulfill the exalted "gee whiz" promise of nanotechnology. And I'm not talking about facial creams.

      billy - no...they are NOT calling the transistor 'little blue'
    • At last we'll be able to make some cables to take the current to charge those 'instant charge' batteries mentioned a while back!?
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @08:06PM (#12367119)


    Let's just hope the kids at Rice don't get confused and wind up making a ridiculously large model [slashdot.org] of a quantum wire instead. :P

  • by SteeldrivingJon (842919) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @08:12PM (#12367156) Homepage Journal

    I'm sure there's some outfit in Audiophile magazine that will sell you "quantum wire".

    I hear it gives you really crisp trebles.
  • I'm a bit surprised that NASA didn't ask Zyvex [zyvex.com] to work on this for them... I have friends who work there, and they do some really neat stuff. (Including working on those crazy quantum nano-tubes).

    Contrary to popular belief, their office is actually quite large.
  • My basic reaction is that superconducting approaches make much more sense. Weight is pretty much not a factor for normal usages. When the quantity of electricity involved is large enough that the weight does become a factor, then you're probably thinking of power transmission lines, and in that scenario you can consider the tradeoff for seriously large amounts of power. I can imagine a small refrigerated tunnel containing a high-temperature ceramic semiconductor and carrying extremely large amounts of elect
    • Weight may not be a factor, but flexibility is. Traditional superconductors are ceramics, where breaks between domains ruins the transmission. Carbon nanotubes, OTOH, would be flexible, and could be routed in manners than relatively rigids ceramics couldn't. The would also be more resistant to failures due to flexing.

      It would be interesting to know the weight of the wire in current launch vehicles, as every kilo less of copper wire is a kilo more of payload you can lob into orbit.
    • by ErikTheRed (162431) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @08:52PM (#12367440) Homepage
      My basic reaction is that superconducting approaches make much more sense. Weight is pretty much not a factor for normal usages. When the quantity of electricity involved is large enough that the weight does become a factor, then you're probably thinking of power transmission lines, and in that scenario you can consider the tradeoff for seriously large amounts of power. I can imagine a small refrigerated tunnel containing a high-temperature ceramic semiconductor and carrying extremely large amounts of electricity with very little lossage.

      Ummmm, dude, NASA is the one setting up the grant. That would imply that they're thinking about using it in spacecraft, satellites, probes, etc. where weight is a huge fucking deal.

      From TFA:
      "This is a small step but a very significant one from our perspective, as we try to develop new technology that will help us as we send humans out from Earth and into space," said Jefferson Howell Jr., director of NASA's Johnson Space Center.
      ...
      NASA hopes to outfit future spacecraft with quantum wires rather than heavier copper wires. Doing so could shave critical pounds, which would save money on fuel and, ultimately, allow the craft to go farther into space.
      ...
      Some engineers have also talked about building a 62,000-mile-long tether made of nanotubes for a space elevator that would carry astronauts and cargo into orbit.

      Sorry, but you missed the point by about a lightyear.
  • ...in that I'm always picking on a buddy who works for LANL.

    Now I can say (already have actually):

    "you're a few nanotubes short of a meter!"
  • I wonder if there might be any help to be had with the seeding or growing process using properties involving electrical charge, magnetic fields, or some combination of the two to assist with selection and alignment...
  • You could use such a wire to suspend a system of plates that would counter-revolve within your gigantic ring-shaped world to provide changing day and night zones.

    A small ball on the tip of a strand repelled with a magnetic field would make a great sword/cutting tool.

    Warnings for experimenters: Don't try to pick them up with your bare hands and watch out for sunflowers.
  • 60 times better? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jherico (39763) <`bdavis' `at' `saintandreas.org'> on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:16PM (#12367658) Homepage
    As far as I know conductivty is a function of the cross section of a wire, which scales linearly with weight.

    So 10 times better at 1/6th the weight should be the same as 60 time better as copper, or that it conducts the same as copper but at 1/60th the weight. Or 20 times better at 1/3rd the weight. Who's deciding this? I feel like I'm reading an article on futuristic wiring technology, but can't be trusted to deal with any number or fraction that involves a number larger than 10. Fuckers.
    • Re:60 times better? (Score:3, Informative)

      by pavon (30274)
      The point is that given two wires with the same cross sectional area the quantum wire will be 10 times better and 1/6th the weight compared to the copper wire. It wouldn't make much sense to compare wires of different sizes as you suggest.

    • Actually, I believe weight scales as the square of the wire cross-section:

      weight = mass*gravity
      mass = density*volume
      density is simply a material parameter, so assume we are comparing two wires of the same material
      volume = length*pi*radius^2

      However you can not treat CNT with the same simple analysis of something such as copper. CNT are sort of like hoses (empty on the inside, having a matrix of carbon on the outside). I assume that it is not 10* better than traditional copper cables, but rather 10

  • Try test equipment (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slapout (93640)
    Seems like a lot of money for a little wire

    You've obviously never priced oscilloscope probe wires before. :-)
  • it's right here:


    - see it?
    • it's right here: - see it? Excellent work! And your method is so easy to use that we've already adapted it to our own uses. For instances, your $11 million check is here:

      Don't spend it all in one place!

  • even BETTER (Score:2, Funny)

    by hoyboy9 (648196)
    I'm a current Rice student, and one of the running jokes about all this nanotech stuff here on campus came from our student newspaper writers. Take two bucky balls, and one long nanotube, and fuse them together with a few bonds and you get: PHUCTANE All the students in orgo were completely phuc'ed after that.
  • Bill Gates will have his heated driveway recabled with this stuff.
  • " 10 times better than traditional copper cables at one-sixth the weight." Writing "10 times better" is mighty misleading. If a superconductor is "1", and copper is "0.95", then this whizzy new wire would be 0.995, only 4% better than copper.

    And the weight of copper is rarely a problem.

    Sorry to bring facts into this...

    • And the weight of copper is rarely a problem.

      Unless you're sending stuff into space.

      I can't think of anyone who might want to do that offhand but... wait, who was funding that again?

      Sorry to bring the full set of facts into this.
      • >>And the weight of copper is rarely a problem. >Unless you're sending stuff into space. Sending stuff into space *is* mighty rare. And one might estimate copper makes up somewhat less than 1% of the weight of the ISS. Much bigger weight concerns are the continuing need for several pounds of water per person per day. Figure out a way to dehydrate wather and then you're onto something.

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