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Nanowires of Unlimited Length 111

StCredZero writes with word of a research team from the University of Illinois who have developed a way to manufacture nanowires of any length from various materials. Not, unfortunately, carbon nanotubes, or we would be looking for news on space elevators soon. The process is analogous to drawing with a fountain pen — as liquid is drawn from a reservoir, a solvent (water or an organic) evaporates and the solute precipitates onto a substrate. The researchers have demonstrated a way to spin and wind a nanowire onto a spool; they have produced a coil of microfiber 850 nm in diameter and 40 cm long. Here's the abstract from the journal Advanced Materials.
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Nanowires of Unlimited Length

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  • Hee hee hee (Score:5, Funny)

    by Warui Kami ( 104676 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @02:48AM (#22376692)
    From TFA (The Fine Abstract):

    No abstract.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2008 @02:51AM (#22376706)
    It's not the length of the wire, it's how you use it.
  • Interesting (Score:2, Insightful)

    But they only made the wires out of sugar, and various other water soluble compounds. While they said they could make wires out of ingredients that dissolve in volatile organic compounds, when will they be able to make them out of metal?
    • Yes... quite a downer on your day when the space elevator you just finished melts away due to a little rain.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @02:54AM (#22376722)

    IMHO, is this:

    To further demonstrate the versatility of the drawing process, for which the U. of I. has applied for a patent, the researchers drew nanofibers out of sugar, out of potassium hydroxide (a major industrial chemical) and out of densely packed quantum dots.

    Nanowires made of quantum dots? Sounds like an outstanding way to make a super efficient solar panel. []

    You could lay out nano structures of quantum dots with whatever spacing and precision you'd like. And unlike all the other advances we usually see here on /. this one is already working.

  • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @03:03AM (#22376758) Homepage
    In other news a goofy red-blue character with the habit of spinning threads of various lengths has been seen roaming the streets of New York.

    On a more serious note this is what many silk spinners do. They excrete silk as liquid and it becomes a wire or a sheet a few ms later. Some silk spinners manage threads which are in micrometers in diameter as well.
    • Maybe we can start feeding them metal or carbon pellets?

      It will be neat to see the future of this. Hopefully they can scale everything for more production, and get some alternate materials in there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stereoroid ( 234317 )
      Fibres in the m range are nothing new - that's where optical fibre lives, with the long-range fibres below 10 m. This story is about fibres in the nanometre range, a thousandth the diameter of optical fibre.

      I wonder how strong the fibre is, and how long it will be before it gets turned in to a weapon? Attach it to a stick, hang a weight on the other end, and whoops! there goes my head, rolling down the stairs.
      • that's where optical fibre lives, with the long-range fibres below 10 m

        I should certainly hope they don't need fibers thicker than 10 meters... Where do you get such a thick fiber anyway? That's like, house-sized.

    • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @04:50AM (#22377138)
      This could mean that artificial silk is around the corner. And I don't mean some silk-like synthetic but instead something with the exact properties of real silk but a much lower price. If they do manage to make silk that way I predict that in a few years silk will be the next big fad. Of course this doesn't work like a real silk gland at all, but maybe something workable can be achieved.

      Outside of the fashion world (where things actually matter), this might also mean a big step towards artificial spider silk, which a lot of people are very interested in - spider silk is very tough and is would be useful wherever you need a very light tough fabric, especially when you want something that is biodegradable. Currently we can produce the protein, but we can't spin it. Perhaps this technology might enable us to create something reasonably similar to real spider silk.
      • W00T PANTS!! Where's my Spiderman webslinger?!!
      • Bah! You young whippersnappers!

        I'd rather get my silk the old-fashioned way, by milking goats: []

        • That's what I meant with "we can produce the protein". The problem with goat silk is that it's just the protein in raw form. Spiders do some very specific things with their silk protein in order to form strands of it. The company that came up with goat silk tried to replicate it but failed - they finally abandoned the effort. However, if this new technology also worked for spider silk protein, we could get close to the real deal. It'd probably still not match what real spiders produce, but it's better than
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by samkass ( 174571 )
      "This is my drawer full of various lengths of wire... that's my interstellar spaceship.... here, let me show you some wire..."
  • good (Score:5, Funny)

    by rastoboy29 ( 807168 ) * on Monday February 11, 2008 @03:04AM (#22376760) Homepage
    Now we can finally start closing the so called "garotte gap" with the Russians.
  • wait... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2008 @03:14AM (#22376796)
    doesn't it have to be around or under 100nm to be considered nano?
    • Re:wait... (Score:4, Funny)

      by Garridan ( 597129 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @03:51AM (#22376926)
      Apparently, a thing needs only be measured in nanometers to be considered "nano". My car is also nano-scale, being a scant 1524000000 nanometers tall!
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by slaingod ( 1076625 )
        I hear you, but in this case, I think because it lies within the range of nanometers ( ie. less than 1 micrometer) that it is an accurate and valid usage.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Garridan ( 597129 )
          Do you doubt that I could measure my car to within a range of +/- 1 micrometer []? No sweat. My micrometer is about 3.5 inches long, and my car is 5' tall, plus or minus an inch. That puts it at a height of 17.15 +/- 0.28 micrometers. No wonder shuttles keep crashing... you Americans know nothing about the metric system!
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by slaingod ( 1076625 )
            Um, that wasn't the point. The point is that they are 850nm thick which is less than a micrometer. In no way is any dimension (of the usual 3 :) of your car less than 1 micrometer.
            • And I don't doubt there are a lot of things you can measure that are 3.5 inches :) JK!!!
              • Garridan:

                No wonder shuttles keep crashing... you Americans know nothing about the metric system!

                And I don't doubt there are a lot of things you can measure that are 3.5 inches :) JK!!!
                No wonder we Americans keep having to farm IT jobs overseas and lower immigration standards. They're just following our academic standards, which are now nearly oxymoronic.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jez9999 ( 618189 )
        Apparently, a thing needs only be measured in nanometers to be considered "nano".

        Or, rather small and made by Apple.
      • by jagdish ( 981925 )
        Is it nano scale car, or is it a Nano Car? []
    • Re:wait... (Score:4, Informative)

      by julesh ( 229690 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @04:45AM (#22377120)
      doesn't it have to be around or under 100nm to be considered nano?

      AFAIK, the most common definition is under 1um, so this just qualifies.
      • by audunb ( 1237184 )
        I'm a nanotech-student, and the definition we're always using is below 100nm.
        I haven't read the article, I just skimmed through parts of it, but it seems like they are naming the >250nm-fibers microfibers and the smaller ones nanofibers.
      • by Rostin ( 691447 )
        I think the gp is right.. under 100 nm is still the most common standard. But, IIRC, a few months ago a seminar speaker in my department casually remarked that many people in the micro- and nanofluidics community were applying the nano label to structures under a micron.
    • Yes, TFA refers to 25 and 100 nm structures as nano and the 850 nm structure as micro. "...nanofibers approximately 25 nanometers in diameter..." "...nanofibers approximately 100 nanometers in diameter..." "...microfiber was approximately 850 nanometers in diameter..."
    • by DinZy ( 513280 )
      I wouldn't call them nanowires. 0.85 um is hardly nano. But I suppose I am biased because I work with actual nanowires. This is just a case of the U of I trying to patent something and turn a profit from it. It is a disturbing trend that is happening in our universities. Universities create these Technology transfer divisions, spend millions on staff, etc, charge us poor research groups higher overhead to pay for it, and then try to turn a profit by patenting our results. It is not profitable for the
    • by Timmmm ( 636430 )
      Due to the fact that actual 'grey goo'-style nanotechnology is many decades away, people have latched on to the nanotech buzzword by describing anything whose *components* are nano-scale as nanotechnology. For example if you put really small particles in paint and that makes it have interesting properties, that makes it 'nanotechnology'. In this case the nanotubes themselves are nano-sized.

      It is indeed silly, but otherwise we wouldn't have much that we could really call nano-technology.
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @03:22AM (#22376824) Journal
    And over there is my intergalactic spaceship. And here's where I keep assorted lengths of wire.
  • there's nothing to see here. move along.
  • by doomy ( 7461 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @03:59AM (#22376962) Homepage Journal
    It looks like this "O"
  • unlimited? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Drantin ( 569921 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @04:30AM (#22377054)
    How long will it take to manufacture a nanowire of infinite length?
  • by dissy ( 172727 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @04:31AM (#22377056)

    Nanowires of Unlimited Length
    So would that be comcast unlimited length, timewarner unlimited length, or AT&T unlimited length?

    And could you convert that to a unit of cars or library of congresses?

  • The moment I read the first sentence, the subject of the second sentence popped into my mind. Then I read it.

    Heavy sigh.

    But it's still progress.
  • Considering that carbon nanotubes are graphite-like structures first found in the soot of arc discharges, it seems reasonable that an organic nanofiber of the right composition might decompose into a nanotube if strongly heated under the right conditions (almost certainly, for a start, anaerobic ones).
  • nano nano (Score:5, Funny)

    by dwater ( 72834 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @05:32AM (#22377252)
    There's only one image I see when I read the word 'nano'. My brain always doubles it up into 'nano nano'.

    Am I alone?

    Please say I am. I wouldn't wish it on anyone...
  • They're NULs (nanowires of unlimited length)...
    Either that, or they've gone to /dev/NUL
    There's too many jokes here...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Not, unfortunately, carbon nanotubes, or we would be looking for news on space elevators soon.

    Carbon nanotubes have a unique structure that gives them amazing strength, conductivity and resilience. These properties, however, only exist at the nanoscale and have never been scaled up. (Ballistic conduction, for instance, usually only occurs for ~100 um.) So the idea that a space elevator will be constructed from CNTs is something of a Popular Science induced myth.

    • by StCredZero ( 169093 ) on Monday February 11, 2008 @12:25PM (#22380000)
      Space Elevators going up to geosynchronous orbit aren't needed, so carbon nanotubes aren't needed either. We could build a Space Pier [] - which is a series of towers 100km tall with an accelerator on the top - out of pressurized cylindrical columns made out of boron. (The linked article talks about diamondoid materials, but other researchers have looked into more conventional materials which would allow us to build towers 100km high.) Also, Robert Zubrin has looked into a Hypersonic Skyhook [] which doesn't extend all the way to the ground or out to geosynch. However, it's a lot easier to design and build a SSTO or TSTO craft that can acheive 100km altitude and 4 or 5 km/s delta-v, as opposed to 8.5 km/s needed for low earth orbit. It is rumored that Burt Rutan's White Knight Two [] is designed to also launch a higher performance rocket plane that could acheive this. (In addition to the Space Ship Two space tourism craft.)
  • So what can we really do with it? Like what is the real world app?
  • Is that kind of like a potion of unlimited healing? And more importantly, how many mages can you strangle with a single, unlimitedly long wire?
  • Let's run one out to Alpha Centauri.

    No? I guess "unlimited" was a bit of an overstatement then.

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.