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The Carbon Age
Alex Steffen, 5 Jan 06

Bruce Sterling, Ally #1, has written a fun column about the rise of carbon nanoribbons:

Imagine lightweight, fireproof buildings that laugh merrily at Category 5s and Richter 8s. Imagine levees as thin as Saran Wrap but impervious to surges. Imagine 100 percent carbon computers running on 100 percent carbon solar cells. Buckytubes might serve the transformative role for the 21st century that steel did for the 19th and plastic for the 20th.

It gets weirder. Cheap, chopped-up buckyribbon or buckyyarn would be the ideal feedstock for computerized fabricators. Today's fabs make objects directly from digital plans, one lami nated layer at a time. Why not layers of modified buckytubes? Such fabricators could make durable objects with highly tunable physical properties. If the tubes were loosely packed, the output would be light and flexible; if they were rigid and densely tangled, the resulting objects could scratch pig iron. You'd never need an assembly line again.

Of course, there's a problem with Stuff of the Future: As the clock ticks, it inevitably becomes the Stuff of the Past. That means facing the prospect of buckyjunk.

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Nano-future meets Cradle-to-Cradle future. We absolutely need the latter. Will that permit the former?

Posted by: David Foley on 6 Jan 06

"buckyjunk". I love it. But! It has the virtue of turning consumerism into a carbon sequesteration scheme. :)

Posted by: davidg on 6 Jan 06

What are the production requirements on carbon nanotubes? As I recall, they're hardly energy efficient or environmentally friendly to make. And behind their immediate production lie the vast excesses of the productive economic system that make their development possible. Could we make nanotubes without oil?

Posted by: fartles on 8 Jan 06

You realize, of course, that nanotechnology poses an enormous threat to humans and the environment, one that we've never experienced before in human history. Carbon nanotubes interfere with DNA directly, they cross the blood- brain barrier, easily and are known to kill any living green plant

Dann Passoja

Posted by: Dann Passoja on 10 Jan 06


Given how often we write about both nanotechnology and carbon nanotubes (and, for the record, the two are not synonyms -- there's plenty of nanotech that doesn't do anything with nanotubes), I make a point of following the current discussions of associated risks. You may want to search on "nanotechnology risks" in the search box, btw, for some useful links.

Some research has, in fact, shown that nanotubes pose biological risks under certain conditions. In the research I've seen, however, those conditions don't map to real-world exposure; they're more along the lines of worst-possible-case scenarios. Furthermore, some of the research -- such as the SWNT clumping around DNA, preventing proper replication -- has yet to be confirmed.

I'm not trying to say that nanotubes are harmless; that's demonstrably not true. But the risks are still being studied, and the current research seems to indicate that the most likely kinds real-world exposures wouldn't be serious health problems. Nanotubes used in material production don't break off as single tube molecules, and it's the characteristics of single tube molecules that appear to be the source of problems.

Jamais Cascio

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 10 Jan 06

Even though nanotechnology could be dangerous, with extreme care and dilligence I think that we could minimize the environmental impact. This is, in fact, being done already. Nanotechnology already offers some ultimate promises. Indestructible body armor for our troops in Iraq (Isra cast nano armor click on internet)/Users/dannpassoja/Desktop/Nano technology/IsraCast- NANO-ARMOR- PROTECTING THE SOLDIERS OF TOMORROW.webarchive.... smart batteries, ultra selective drug delivery systems and many more to mention a few applications. This will be a nano revolution like the industrial revolution but it will dwarf any other revolution that has been recorded.

Posted by: Dann Passoja on 20 Jan 06



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