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Nanotechnology Meets Knitting Yarn?

:: Scientists from U. T. Dallas and Australia Achieve Breakthrough by ‘Downsizing’ Ancient Technology - Scientists from U. T. Dallas and Australia Achieve Breakthrough by ‘Downsizing’ Ancient Technology:

RICHARDSON, Texas (Nov. 19, 2004) – Scientists at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) NanoTech Institute, along with an Australian collaborator, today announced they have 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 a unusual collaboration involving UTD nanotechnologists Dr. Mei Zhang and Dr. Ray H. Baughman and a noted expert in wool spinning, Dr. Ken Atkinson of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), an Australian national laboratory. The results of the group’s research are described in an article in the Nov. 19 issue of the prestigious journal, Science.

Potential commercial opportunities arising from the discovery will be enhanced by the hundred-fold lower cost of the spun multi-walled nanotubes compared with the single-walled nanotubes that are more commonly studied, according to Baughman, the article’s corresponding author and Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and director of the UTD NanoTech Institute. The latter are a single cylinder made of graphite, while the multi-walled nanotubes contain a concentric array of such cylinders, which look like the rings of a tree trunk when viewed in cross section. Nanotubes are many thousands of times thinner than a human hair.

UTD and CSIRO have filed a patent application (with more than 200 claims) to protect the carbon nanotube spinning technology and its extension to other semiconducting, metallic and superconducting nanofibers and nanoribbons. This pending patent provides invention embodiments for applications that include artificial muscles, supercapacitors, antiballistic vests, thermal heat pipes, electronic textiles, sensors, electron field emitters, ultra-high intensity lamps and three-dimensional micro-fluidic circuits for chemical laboratories that are the size of a computer chip.

“We believe that our nanotube yarns can be commercialized for important applications in less than five years, and a number of companies large and small are committed to help make this happen,” said Baughman. “Working together with CSIRO, companies and U.S. government laboratories, we are forging ahead to upscale the process and optimize properties of the materials for the initially targeted applications. The interesting fundamental chemistry and physics, such as giant stretch-induced densification and associated electrical and thermal transport property changes, complements the exciting application possibilities of these yarns.”

Some of the possible applications for the new yarns include:

  • * structural composites that are strong, tough and able to reduce mechanical vibrations.
  • * Protective clothing that provides antiballistic and static-discharge protection, as well as radio and microwave frequency absorption.
  • * Supercapacitors, batteries and fuel cells in the form of yarn structures that are weaveable into textiles for storing or generating electrical energy.
  • * Chemically or electrically powered artificial muscles for prosthetics and robots, morphing air vehicles and minimally invasive catheters with enhanced functionality for medical applications.
  • * Electrical wiring and distributed sensors for electronic textiles.
  • * Heat pipes that provide both structural reinforcement and heat dissipation.
  • * High intensity source of field-emitted electrons for intense fluorescent lights and displays, as well as X-ray sources small enough to fit in a medical catheter.
  • * Filaments for incandescent light sources with decreased susceptibility to mechanical damage because of yarn toughness and mechanical damping ability.
The UTD-CSIRO research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the United States Department of Defense, the Texas Advanced Technology Program, the Robert A. Welch Foundation and the Strategic Partnership for Research in Nanotechnology, or SPRING.

To obtain a copy of the Science article, please contact the journal at 202-326-6440 or scipak AT aaas.org.

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