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Science Technology

Futuristic 'Smart' Yarns from Carbon Nanotubes 216

neutron_p writes "Scientists at The UTD NanoTech Institute achieved a major technological breakthrough by spinning multi-walled carbon nanotube yarns that are strong, tough and extremely flexible, and are both electrically and thermally conducting. Among other things, the futuristic yarns could result in 'smart' clothing that stores electricity, provides ballistic protection and adjusts temperature and porosity to provide greater comfort. The breakthrough, made possible by, in effect, downsizing ancient technology used for wool and cotton spinning to the nanoscale, resulted from an unusual collaboration involving nanotechnologists and experts in wool spinning."
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Futuristic 'Smart' Yarns from Carbon Nanotubes

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  • Knitting (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:26PM (#10889350) Homepage Journal
    Does this mean that grandma can now knit me a bullet proof vest?
    • Re:Knitting (Score:5, Funny)

      by oexeo ( 816786 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:32PM (#10889422)
      > Does this mean that grandma can now knit me a bullet proof vest?

      If your grandma is a scientist working in Nano technology, yes.
    • Re:Knitting (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tkaos ( 112433 )
      I'd imagine only if she's got some serious time on her hands. How long would it take to knit a vest with nanothread?
    • Re:Knitting (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      > Does this mean that grandma can now knit me a bullet proof
      > vest?

      Yes, and if it saves your life from bullets then you have to look forwards to a slow and painful death from all the numerous detrimental and very dangerous effects from exposure to carbon nanotubes.

      This is not safe stuff to just be casting around ideas of using in clothing. It's as irresponsible as the asbestos-impregnated children's clothing from the 1930s and 1940s.
    • Steel Wool (Score:4, Interesting)

      by suso ( 153703 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @02:36PM (#10890023) Homepage Journal
      and extremely flexible, and are both electrically and thermally conducting.

      Eh hem, everybody remember what happens to steel wool when you hook it up to a 9 volt battery in science class?

    • Does this mean that grandma can now knit me a bullet proof vest?

      I figured you wouldn't need one. Maybe you should have been Kevlarsides or possibly CarbonNanotubesYarnSides.

  • by 93,000 ( 150453 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:27PM (#10889359)
    and now they come out with this. I knew I should have waited.
  • Finally... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tokenhillbilly ( 311564 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:27PM (#10889360)
    Now we can get to work on spinning the belt for the space elevator.
  • by _PimpDaddy7_ ( 415866 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:27PM (#10889362)
    "Are you wearing one of them new carbon-acrylic dockers? Or are you just happy to see me?" :)
  • by sw149 ( 570618 ) * on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:29PM (#10889382) Homepage
    Lets see it will be silver, one piece and one size fits all.

  • by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:29PM (#10889387) Journal
    the chastity thong, a secure impenetrable and fashionable undergarment for young ladies concerned about fashion, and fathers concerned about young men.
  • from the typing-too-fast dept
  • Yes, but... (Score:4, Funny)

    by elid ( 672471 ) <> on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:30PM (#10889392)
    ...does it repel stains?
  • Not only clothing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kusanagi374 ( 776658 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:30PM (#10889396)
    This kind of technology is not only useful in helping you wear your computer, which seems to be today's fetiche of every geek. Although that is, indeed, attractive, let us think for a while about the advantages of being able to have such small conductors. For example, we can have super computers that are roughly the same size of today's desktops.

    Imagine a beowulf cluster of nanocomputers inside your ATX case, and then you'll see what's a really good fetiche. It might even run Longhorn with Doom 3 and Duke Nukem Forever on dual monitors!
  • Am I the only one who thought of Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke when reading this?

    For those that don't know, Foutains of Paradise [] is where ACC first coined the idea of building an elevator into space which he later used in 3001: A Final Odyssey [] (The 3rd sequal to 2001: A Space Odyssey). To build the elevator a super-strength carbon string was bundled into three bundles and then attached to a giant mass in space to keep the tethers taught. At least if memory serves me correctly that's how it was done. If you're an ACC fan and haven't read Fountains of Paradise, I recommend it.

    • This may have been the first time that Clarke wrote about a space elevator, but the concept was not original with him.

      Tsiolkovsky first proposed it in 1895.

      See owers.html
  • by sameerdesai ( 654894 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:32PM (#10889414)
    I have always been fascinated by them that they have so many incredible applications [] and multiwalled carbon nanotubes [] is just one of its many possible ways of using it.
  • Pressure tanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tap-Sa ( 644107 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:32PM (#10889418)
    Screw smart clothes... Hopefully this stuff can be made into next generation pressurised (200-300 atm) rocket fuel tanks. No turbopumps, reliable pressure fed engines without weight penalty in bulky tanks and cheap RLV is one important step closer to reality.
    • Interesting idea, but how does this stuff react with LOX or LH? Cryogenic propellents do some funky things to materials. 200-300 atmospheres is a LOT of pressure to hold, you can't have the slightest flaw in the vessel. That would need to be some incredible tight knitting! Get a research grant from NASA and see if you can make your idea work!
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:34PM (#10889442) Homepage Journal
    I first read this as "Futuristic Smart Yams from Carbon Nanotubes." If ever any overlords ever needed welcoming, it'd be Smart Yam overlords. I wouldn't have to be the one to explain about Thanksgivings past. Hopefully they wouldn't demand to eat one human for every yam ever consumed...
  • obSimpsons (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rorschach1 ( 174480 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:34PM (#10889453) Homepage
    I, for one, welcome our new itchy sweater-wearing overlords.
  • Jacket: Your jacket is drying... ::Air being blown in McFly's face::

    Jacket: Beep. Your jacket is dry.

  • Not cool enough (Score:3, Interesting)

    by qengho ( 54305 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:35PM (#10889461)
    "Smart clothes," feh. Wake me up when they've developed mimetic polycarbon. []
  • by Donny Smith ( 567043 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:37PM (#10889476)
    That's just in time (or just a bit too late?) to save many a developed country's ass - if I'm not mistaken in 2005 WTO members must abolish textile quotas and Chinese and Indian manufacturers are poised to make a killing.

    Products based on this technology will command premium prices (and have great features - I might finally become interested in shopping!).

    • About time they abolished those quotas. Given the dominance of imported textiles in the US already, it won't have that big an impact. If the remaining domestic producers want to stay viable, they can always shift to more boutique-style production touting the domestic nature of the product, and they'll still find buyers. Of course, it's easier to just bitch about foreign producers...
  • Ballistic protection (Score:5, Interesting)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:37PM (#10889477) Homepage Journal
    In Ontario, Canada the guvmnt wants to declare bullet proof vests against the law, just like weapons. Will clothes that provide ballistic protection as well as a range of other great features be against the law? I want my bullet-proof underwear, god-damnit!

    • If bullet-proof underwear is against the law, only criminals will have bullet-proof underwear.
    • Banning bulletproof vests because of potential criminal use seems to be kind of silly. Would they be allowing exceptions for those who have recieved death threats? Will only politicians and law enforcement be allowed to use them?
    • OT:

      Wow... I can understand where people are coming from when they are against guns (especially automatic weaponry), but being against bullet proof vests? That's insane!
      • "Wow... I can understand where people are coming from when they are against guns (especially automatic weaponry), but being against bullet proof vests? That's insane!"
        Well not really. I mean think about this statement. I can understand people being against ICBMs but being against missile defense that is insane. Think about how many people a nutcase with a gun and a bullet proof vest could take out? I remember seeing pictures of some guys in LA that the cops just could not stop until they went to gun store a
    • In Ontario, Canada the guvmnt wants to declare bullet proof vests against the law, just like weapons.

      I've been Googling various likely keywords, but I haven't been able to find anything...period.

      Have you got any sources for that statement? Was it the 'Government' or just a backbench (or Opposition?) MPP who proposed the policy?

      I know that some U.S. lawmakers (Senator Feinstein, D-CA, for example) have suggested banning the sale of bulletproof vests to the public, but I wasn't aware of similar moves

      • This month there was an arrest made, a guy with about 20 pieces, a bunch of fake guns and some bulletproof vests. So it's very very recent, I am now hearing it on the radio talk-shows, the police chief implied this is a possibility that bullet proof vests will be outlawed.

  • The killer app (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Control Group ( 105494 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:38PM (#10889492) Homepage
    This is clearly cool. Temperature-sensitive clothing that adjusts to keep me comfortable over a range of conditions would be spectacular. Bullet resistance is a cool bonus. The potential exoskeletal applications are downright neat. And, personally, I would love to see this in wearable computing applications.

    But all that being said, what I want to see most is clothing that you can change the appearance of (color, pattern, even cut, if possible) at will. Not because I particularly want it, mind you, but because I'm quite certain that that's the feature that will drive adoption of this in the consumer space, which is what will cause all the actually cool applications to be available.

    Viva fashion, and whatnot.

    • I can see it now: you could walk up to any woman you see, clap twice, and turn her sweater into a bikini top.
    • But all that being said, what I want to see most is clothing that you can change the appearance of (color, pattern, even cut, if possible) at will.

      Came and went as far back as the '80s, as clothing fashion is wont to do.
      A little biofeedback practice and you could make your hypercolor t-shirt change color from among 3 or more different colors (like, blue, pink and white).

    • change the appearance of (color, pattern,
      even cut, if possible) at will.
      It's called elastic, and it's brother spandex. One used by old ladies to "change the cut" as waistlines expand, the other used by young ladies to "change the cut" to achieve the tightest fit possible.

      Pray god you never see the two get mixed up.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "The breakthrough, made possible by, in effect, downsizing ancient technology used for wool and cotton spinning to the nanoscale, resulted from an unusual collaboration involving nanotechnologists and experts in wool spinning."

    Now just think what the car makers can learn from the buggy whip people?
  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:43PM (#10889538)
    Is this "smart" yarn smart enough to stop people from wearing lime green paisley sweaters?
    • It's worse than that: with the new smaart fabric, the paisley's swim around.

    • Is this "smart" yarn smart enough to stop people from wearing lime green paisley sweaters?

      Being carbon, all of the clothing will be black*.

      The future will be very, very hip...albeit a bit warm when out in the Sun.

      (*Yes, I know that not all carbon allotropes are black, and that it's likely possible to synthesize nanotubes with unusual optical properties. It's just a joke.)

  • by jackelfish ( 831732 ) * on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:44PM (#10889548)
    I would not get my hopes up for getting a carbon nanotube sweater for Christmas this year or next year or the year after that... In the foreseeable future these nanotube yarns would be used to replace metal wires in applications where increased flexibility and pliability are required they could also be used for such things as capacitors or batteries. The authors of the article (Mei Zhang, Ken R. Atkinson and Ray H. Baughman, Science, 306, 5700, p1358-1361, 19 November 2004) state that the small yarn diameters (about 20 micrometers for the four ply yarn), could eliminate the uncomfortable rigidity sometimes found for metal wire-containing conducting textiles that provide radio or microwave absorption, electrostatic discharge protection, textile heating, or wiring for electronic devices. Although a bulletproof, electrically conductive vest that could withstand temperature extremes from +450C to -196C does sound quite appealing.
  • by quamaretto ( 666270 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:44PM (#10889559) Homepage

    Comes textile-punk, to be featured in Neal Stephenson's upcoming book, Sweater Crash. Meanwhile, the Wachowski brothers have a new movie in the making about about a futuristic society where all of humanity is entrapped in a large, controlling single piece of nano-fabric. Of course, this was all done 50 years ago in an Asimov book.

  • The article (Score:5, Informative)

    by grungebox ( 578982 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:47PM (#10889590) Homepage
    The link is kind of crappy. It's sort of hype-ish without real science, which coincidentally is the name of the journal whose latest issue is mentioned in the link as containing the paper describing the breakthrough. What a sentence that was...anyways, here you go []. You should be able to read it even if you aren't at a subscribing institution since it's the latest issue.

    It's worth noting that UTD has only been hard at work in CNT research for a few years. I was there in 2002 when the NanoTech institute was still being built. They had a bunch of Dells sitting outside the building with no one watching...but I guess they didn't worry. I mean, who steals a Dell?

    Other good links, mostly culled from the above Science article:
    Baughman's summary of nanotube work []
    Smalley (the Nobel prize winner) and his CNT work: []: He invented the HiPCO process for large-scale development of CNT's...from what I gather, fiber-spinning like the UTD method is a direct competitor.
    A really good (and 46 page!) discussion of nanotube work []
    Strong Bad [], in case you get tired of science.
  • by ThosLives ( 686517 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:47PM (#10889596) Journal

    Now, as can be demonstrated by many of my previous posts, I'm all for pure and applied science. However, lately, I've been thinking quite a lot on the question "what good is technology?". Yes, building a space elevator would be cool. Yes, having light bulletproof vests would be cool. But how does this science help mankind? Does it improve agriculture? Does it help provide things people need? Does it help the environment? Does it help people get along better?

    I know these are questions that don't have easy answers always, and I know that if people thought about these things in a literal sense then we probably would not have a lot of the technology we currently have.

    My question is more of this: what research is being done into pure sciences and technology that does work for agriculture, health, the environment, and those types of things directly. Some technology simply supports those things indirectly by providing jobs, new materials, etc.

    What is lacking in a lot of science, though, and much of life in general, is a lack of focus. Even in the pure sciences, what's the goal of a particular project? Sometimes it's "to see how things work". Sometimes it's "we would like a better way to do X". There is no overarching goal for a lot of modern technology though - mostly it's just "we want a profit!" (Reminds me of the line from Star Trek: First Contact where Zefram Cochrane says he wasn't in it for science but for profit!)

    I am by most measures a successful person, but I've had to ask myself: what good is it? Not from a depressed standpoint, but a "shouldn't I be doing more?" standpoint. Carbon nanotubes are great, but what do they really give us? The list goes on - what do Linux desktops give us? MP3 players (without DRM, of course!)? Wi-Fi? These are all neat things - but do we have a purpose behind our technical passions?


    • You must be new here.
    • It will help people to get alone better, especially if everyone know that the clothes are bulletproof. Bang. For a while I guess. Then we'll just make a better bullet.

    • by grungebox ( 578982 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @02:03PM (#10889764) Homepage
      Comparing Carbon nanotubes to MP3 players is like comparing the transistor to a Radio Flyer wagon.

      CNTs are like lasers. When the laser was invented in 1955 or so (someone correct me), it was billed as a "solution looking for a problem." No one knew what the hell to do with it. Naturally, it being the Cold War, most research money was pumped into Star Wars-style blasters...but now look at all the work done with lasers. Surgery, trace gas detection for pollution controls, CD players, DVD players, spectroscopy for materials science, the list goes on. The point is that CNT research is very early. Hell, nanotubes weren't known to exist until 1990 or so. This is one breakthrough out of about a billion or so possible with Carbon Nanotubes. Don't judge the technology based on the premise of "fancy clothing." Hell, the point of the link isn't the clothing part; it's the fact that a new fabrication method was invented that would improve production (and thus, deployment) of nanotubes by orders of magnitude. It's like finding a new way to make lasers on a broad scale instead of slowly making them by hand like in 1960. What you do with the plethora of nanotubes or lasers or what have you is up to you.
    • I think you need to read some other web sites, or something. ;-)

      Plenty of work being done in agriculture, for example, but it's being demonized by the Luddites. And health? Companies doing health and medical research have their own index on the stock market.

      Also, a society that works hard has earned the right to play, thus our MP3 players and Playstations serve a purpose. Complete selflessness can be wearying, especially when the recipients of that selflessness can be somewhat less than appreciative. It

    • OK, I'll bite (Score:3, Interesting)

      • [...] But how does this science help mankind? Does it improve agriculture? Does it help provide things people need? Does it help the environment? Does it help people get along better? [...]

      Eventually, we'll need thread for nanosurgical sutures.

      Farmers everywhere would appreciate weatherproof, pest-proof grain bins that breathe, but don't ever explode.

      If you can't get along with someone when you're both in bullet-proof underwear, you each deserve what you get. (Not sure I believe that, but it's w

    • I certainly would prefer science to directly enrich the human experience rather than be a constant search for profit. However, I must point out that the ability to conduct pure science on something "because it's there" is no longer completely possible. Of course, one can always hole oneself up in one's apartment with a pad of paper and a pencil to unearth the next mathematical discovery. To do Science, with all it's inferred experimental Goodness, however, is becoming increasingly hard as the frontiers o
    • Flash back a few thousand years, or maybe even one. Here we had a bunch of sailing vessels, with no real purpose other than exploration, naval defense, and the shipping of goods. Most goods shipped had a high profit density (and therefore not available to the masses) due to the risks and relatively small size of the ships used. On the face of it, these ships only helped the relatively wealthy. But they did increase the wealth of nations, the trasmission of ideas, and provide work for some segment of the
  • by RealProgrammer ( 723725 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:52PM (#10889640) Homepage Journal

    I hope it comes with a grounding strap.

    I wonder if this would be a good material for microsurgical sutures.

    And now, we can construct the world's smallest violin for Ron Artest [].

  • Knit me a sweater that transforms into an orbital elevator.

    "Form of... Sky Hook!"

  • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @01:59PM (#10889717) Homepage
    How long is it? Lots of nanotube work has been done before, but at microscopic lengths. Nanotubes won't be practical for anything until they can be made at a useful size.
  • Health concernes.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lordsilence ( 682367 ) * on Monday November 22, 2004 @02:06PM (#10889787) Homepage
    This may be a really stupid question. Related to a recent study concerning the replacements for asbestos. Back in the 80:ies when it was discovered that asbestos would cause lung-cancer or worse after repeated exposion to it, they replaced asbestos rather swiftly with materials like cheramic fibres. Now, recently they discovered that replacements like heat-resistant cheramics could also cause lung-cancer this. Perhaps just as dangerous as asbestos. The reason found, was because of the micro-fragments (dust) which would gather in the lungs and it's air-sacks (alveoli) and make them to swell abnormally and then risk causing cancer.
    Even building insolation materials have also been questioned.
    Now to my concern regarding carbon fibre.. has there been any studies on carbon tubes's affects on the human body? Carbon-fibre is an artificial material such as many insolations questioned. That is why I ask.
    Ten years, twenty years or more from now, will we notice the dangerious side-affects of materials we push out on the market?
    • Ten years, twenty years or more from now, will we notice the dangerious side-affects of materials we push out on the market?

    • Re:Health concerns.. (Score:2, Informative)

      by andrewzx1 ( 832134 )
      Carbon nanotubules have not been rigourously studied for health affects on humans. However, the same chemical attributes that make asbestos so toxic are not found in CNT's. In fact the affect of breathing in CNT's would be most like breathing in carbon soot. In fact, buckey balls and carbon fullerenes do exist naturally in soot. In short, CNT's are not thought to have especially toxic properties, but more studies are being performed.
      • Great, so we won't get lung cancer, only black lung disease. I think I will just keep with smoking my cigarettes while working in a coal mine thank you.
    • YES, Toxic (Score:5, Informative)

      by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @02:30PM (#10889981)
      Apparently someone has already done some testing and concluded these things are extermely TOXIC. [] Clothing and other every-day things made of this stuff? You go first. OTOH, it might be just fine encased in resin. Carbon-nanotube-fiber constuction could be fantastic for everyone except the people who actually make the stuff...
    • by UDGags ( 756537 )
      There have been a few studies done by NIOSH sponsored by NASA. I have nice presentation of them but it is 100mbs so I can not put it up anywhere. Iwould check out there website because I believe the report is publicly available there. It basically says they are not sure and to take proper precautions. It explains the sizes of particles and what takes them out in the lungs and so forth. I work with carbon nanofibers daily in research and anytime we are hadnling dry fibers we wear respirators to be safe. Once
    • Google [] is your friend. Apparently, some negative side effects, but not to the degree of asbestos.
  • Photoelectric? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mogrify ( 828588 )
    Maybe you could use this to create overlapping grids of nanoscale photoelectric cells and LEDs or similar, and create the effect of light being passed through your body to the other side... if not making you completely invisible, at least sort of ghostly or insubstantial-seeming. Or, alternately, an effect of reflecting all light that hits you, or any number of visual effects. Sort of like a walking Photoshop.
  • Incredible? (Score:4, Funny)

    by John Whorfin ( 19968 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @02:13PM (#10889851) Homepage
    So this is what the Incredable's suits are made out of... isn't it daaaaaahling!
  • by MenTaLguY ( 5483 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @02:32PM (#10889990) Homepage
    Somehow I have a feeling the ultrafine fiber fragments shed by these yarns or fabrics made from them with age and wear won't be so happy biologically.

    Generally small particles or fillaments of any material smaller than a certain size are bad for you if inhaled (i.e. Pneumoconiosis), regardless of their composition.

    Additionally, if fiber fragments are short and fine enough, you essentially have little needle-like objects that can do a lot of damage directly at the cellular level.

    So, not that I'm being pessimistic or anything, but in the long term I don't think it'll remain an everyday item. It might hit the open market for a while, but a few decades of cancer studies, toxicoligical studies and lawsuits would likely bring an end to that.

    While my guesses are just that, there are a few discouraging signs [] in research to date. Watch this area; we'll see whether further results warrant concern or not.

    To be clear, I think this technology should certainly be pursued, but we need to be guarded in our optimisim regarding its widespread applicability.
  • by DuckDuckBOOM! ( 535473 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @02:38PM (#10890034)
    Among other things, the futuristic yarns could result in 'smart' clothing that stores electricity...

    Okay, if the handkerchief's in the left pocket s/he's AC, and the right pocket for DC...or was it the other way around?...



  • This was posted in March and July See 2/1443253&tid=14 8/1425203&tid=126&tid=14
  • Since the CNT fabric is conductive -- imagine if you could have a jersey for running or cycling that had an embedded heartrate monitor. No more stupid straps digging into your chest!

    Chip H.
  • ...because these tinfoil underpants are getting seriously uncomfortable!
  • -- obligatory quote from The Incredibles
  • Dangerous fashion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by demigod ( 20497 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:36PM (#10891205)
    No photographs please [].
  • by Cyclotron_Boy ( 708254 ) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:53PM (#10892105) Homepage
    between the textile industry and computing industry... In the late 60s, before bipolar transistor memory or MOS transistor memories were commonplace and practical, companies like Digital and IBM employed several textile company weaving-experts on the efficient weaving of core memory "ropes" and "cloths." Basically, the problems encountered in the fabrication of core memory on a large, complex scale had been solved, or at least examined, centuries before. see Rope memory [] and Apollo Guidance Computer rope memory []. And of course, who could forget the original programmed computer, the Jacquard's punch-card loom? []

Over the shoulder supervision is more a need of the manager than the programming task.