Nano-threads can help realise 'space elevator' dream

For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin nano-threads that exhibit extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than the strongest nano-tubes and polymers available today.

New York: For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin nano-threads that exhibit extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than the strongest nano-tubes and polymers available today.

"One of our wildest dreams for the nano-materials we are developing is that they could be used to make the super-strong, light-weight cables that would make possible the construction of a 'space elevator', which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea," said John V. Badding, a professor of chemistry from the Pennsylvania State University.

The core of the nano-threads is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms, arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond's structure.

The new structure is as if a jeweller has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace.

"Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong and extraordinarily useful," Badding added.

Badding's team is the first to coax molecules containing carbon atoms to form a strong tetrahedron shape, then link each tetrahedron end to end to form a long, thin nano-thread.

The molecule they compressed is benzene - a flat ring containing six carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms.

The resulting nano-thread is surrounded by a halo of hydrogen atoms.

With this discovery, it would be easy to develop strong, stiff, and light materials - especially those that could help to protect the atmosphere including lighter, fuel-efficient and less-polluting vehicles, researchers concluded.

The paper appeared in the journal Nature Materials.

 

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