Thesis: Use of Emerging Technology

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The Scientific, Commercial and Creative Prospects in Carbon Nanotube

Innovations

Most simply phrased, the carbon nanotube is a form of carbon. The

most recently uncovered of eight carbon allotropes, this is a molecular

configuration of the basic element and is categorized as a member of the

fullerene family. The fullerene allotrope has itself only recently been

added to the list of known configurations. A spherical manifestation of

the element, this molecule is similar to the tubular form in its linked,

hexagonal structure and hollow walls. (Wikipedia, 1)

The carbon nanotube eluded full exploitation for so long perhaps

because of its novel structure, even more certainly, for lack of the proper

magnification technology to fully explore its possible applications.

Cylindrically shaped, carbon nanotubes are so named for their extremely

small diameter, which can be estimated at "a few nanometers (approximately

50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair), while they can be up

to several millimeters in length." (Wikipedia, 1) The exponential

comparison of the length to the decisively minute diameter renders a form

of carbon with a unique permutation of properties and, thus, of

applications.

The carbon nanotube is uniquely strong. Exhibiting a strength and

elasticity greater than any other carbon allotrope, the molecule may be

detected in either the single-wall formation or the multi-wall formation.

To distinguish, "single-wall nanotubes can be thought of as the fundamental

cylindrical structure, and these form the building blocks of both multi-

wall nanotubes and the ordered arrays of single-wall nanotubes called

ropes." (Dresselhaus, 1) These ropes exhibit a dipolar effect in which

intermolecular forces naturally draw the carbon nanotubes into tightly

interlocked formations. This accounts for their potential to be extended

to great lengths without surrendering or distorting any of the properties

which make the nanotube so important a discovery.

It is widely noted that Sumio Iijima 'discovered' the carbon nanotube

in 1991, when he utilized the process of orbital hybridization to merge

atomic particles in the synthesis of a new allotrope. In fact though,

journal records illustrate that researchers have in some form or another

ventured to devise practical applications for the microscopic exploratory

potential in extraordinarily precise molecular filaments since as far back

as 1889. (Monthioux et al, 2) However, it was with Iijima's published

article on the behalf of the NEC Corporation that the modern inception of

the carbon nanotube into the thereafter increasingly proliferated

discipline of nanotechnology began in earnest.

Iijima produced a study documenting his teams formation of a new,

usable carbon allotrope, "using an arc-discharge evaporation method similar

to that used for fullerene synthesis, the needles grow at the negative end

of the electrode used for the arc discharge. Electron microscopy reveals

that each needle comprises coaxial tubes of graphitic sheets, ranging in

number from 2 up to about 50. On each tube the carbon-atom hexagons are

arranged in a helical fashion about the needle axis." (Iijima, 56)

Following the publication of his findings, the carbon nanotube has

developed into an item of central importance in the advancement of its

field. Nanotechnology concerns the implementation of technological

strategies that must be executed at a scale of infinitesimal smallness,

with the ambition of observing and manipulating matter at the atomic level

as a prospective eventual horizon. The implications of nanotechnology

extend through virtually any discipline, offering enhancements to computer

hardware, medical equipment and procedure, military equipment, building

resources and space exploration.

Thus, the advent of a material as strong as the carbon nanotube-with

its strength derived from a hybridization process in which a double bond

adjoins multiple molecules-has illuminated a great many innovative

possibilities. And indeed, "it is becoming clear from recent experiments

that carbon nanotubes are fulfilling their promise to be the ultimate high

strength fibres in materials applications." (Forro et al, 5)

The allotrope's most rational immediate applications are already beginning

to find commercial use, with nanotubes being dispatched to the polymers

composing concrete, improving the strength and elasticity of architectural

resources. This may point the way to safer, sounder structures.

The electromagnetic properties of the nanotube also make it a

versatile matter for use in computer circuitry, where its low conducting

heat might make it a promising replacement for silicon. Other practical

uses include its employment as a longer-lasting lightbulb filament; its

currently implemented use as a conductive element in tiny electric motors;

and the manufacture of wear-resistant fibers.

Still more fantastical applications have already begun to find their

way into production. A compelling scientific elaboration upon the

availability of carbon nanotubes has been the synthesis of artificial

muscle. The carbon nanotubes' strength, smallness and electroactive

responsiveness make it a suitable transmitter of sensory signals in the

field of robotics.

Another imaginative prospect currently under exploration is the

development of the Space Elevator. Addressed through investigation at

several joint universities in the United States, the collective ambition

"is that one day a space elevator, comprised of a robot that will climb a

strong tether about 100,000 kilometres (60,000 miles) long, will be able to

send humans or other cargo cheaply into space." (Young, 1) The ribbon with

which this would be accomplished, most of the researchers currently

involved believe, must be composed of carbon nanotube. Its defining

capability to retain its hardness at lengths many times greater than its

diameter suggests it as the ideal material for the project. As of 2004,

researchers had claimed the ability to produce a nanotube of up to 300

meters in length. (Wikipedia, 1) However, current limitations in

available technology render a lengthened nanotube whose properties will

have changed due to a decrease in density. Particularly, the

characteristic strength of the nanotube would be compromised under

currently available technological conditions.

Still, some applications which may be in the more immediate future

could have a great impact on our current technological standards. By using

electron lithography and reactive ion etching to render a charged nanotube

300nm long, nanotechnology physicists have exposed another promising

implementation of the substance. A mounted, charged and extended nanotube

is produced by this process, resulting in a tightly stretched, thin 'guitar

string' of carbon. The taut rendering of the carbon device, researchers

have hypothesized, will allow it, when stimulated, to vibrate at extremely

high frequencies. The recent breakthrough in a University of California,

Berkeley laboratory, occurring just in August of this year, is a powerful

demonstration of the potential applications for the fast evolving

technology. The study demonstrated "how a test mass placed on the string

causes it to vibrate more slowly. The device can detect masses of just 10-

18 grams." (Adler, 1) Such is to assert that this application of the

nanotube will allow us to detect items at a mass which today is impossible

to physically measure. The metric cited above is currently only

theoretical, but may become the empirically observable mass of the molecule

according to the attendant researchers.

The exciting implications of this technology, therefore, may extend

as far as the detection of bacteria or chemicals which are in some context

potentially harmful to human beings. The research cited above contends

that the successful attainment of this project's goals will yield a tool

capable of locating a viral infection in the body at its incubational

stages. Likewise, its sensitivity to the presence of molecular agents

which might be identified in detecting and preventing impending terrorist

germ or chemical assaults suggests an incredible potential for the

advancement of defense and security technology.

Today though, the allotrope's most rational immediate applications are

already beginning to find commercial use, with nanotubes being dispatched

to the polymers composing concrete, improving the strength and elasticity

of architectural resources. This may point the way to safer, sounder

structures. Indeed, as our research denotes, "concrete structures from

bridges to condominium complexes are susceptible to cracks, corrosion and

other forces of natural and man-made chemical assault and degradation.

Aging structures can be repaired, but at significant cost." (AzoNano, 1)

This points to the initial presumption in this discussion, that there is a

real and persistent need to continue to improve our means to build

structures that are safe and reliable.

Increasingly, evidence is suggesting that the unique properties of the

carbon nanofiber makes it an appropriate way to reinforce concrete walling

where deemed appropriate. The simultaneous sturdiness and flexibility may

help to give concrete the type of composition that might allow it withstand

the fluctuation and imposition of the elements. To this idea, our research

denotes that "nanofibers made of carbon, for example, might be added to a

concrete bridge, making it possible to heat the structure during winter or

allowing it to monitor itself for cracks because of the fibers' ability to

conduct electricity." (AzoNano, 1) In fact, the electromagnetic properties

of the nanotube make it a versatile matter for use in a number of other

areas, such as computer circuitry, longer-lasting lightbulb filament; its

currently implemented use as a conductive element in tiny electric motors;

and the manufacture of wear-resistant fibers.

At present though, the ramifications of the use of carbon nanofiber

technology in the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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