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100-Meter Nanotube Pull
Jamais Cascio, 15 Mar 04

No, it's not a new sport, it's the new record for a length of carbon nanotube. Given that the previous best length was around 30 centimeters, this is a bit of an improvement. The process sounds oddly familiar:

The carbon nanotubes are made by injecting ethanol into a fast-flowing stream of hydrogen gas. The gas carries the carbon-containing molecules into the centre of a furnace where temperatures soar above 1000° C.

The high temperature breaks the ethanol down and the carbon atoms reassemble into nanotubes, each about a micron in length. These float in the stream of hydrogen, loosely linked to each other in what Windle describes as an "elastic smoke".

When a rod is poked into this amorphous cloud, it catches a few nanotubes. Rotating the rod pulls on these, which in turn pull on their neighbours, dragging out a continuous thread of closely-aligned nanotubes. This wraps around the rod at a rate of centimetres per second.

It is similar to spinning wool, Windle told New Scientist: "You have this ball of entangled wool and you put a needle in to pull out the threads".

Spinning wool? Maybe. But it sounds more to me like making cotton candy.

But don't start planning your space elevator trip just yet; the nanotubes created by this method are nowhere near as tough or conductive as traditional carbon buckytubes. Still, it's a good step towards making this nanoscale material more usable in the macro world.

Image of traditional nanotubes from University of Basel Nanoscale Science Center

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