Revolutionary material could see real applications sooner than we thought

Optimistic futurologists have long been hyping carbon nanotubes as one of the strongest, incredibly conductive, and universally versatile substance in the history of our species. And it all sounds well and good, except for one problem. When produced, carbon nanotubes are split between metallic nanotubes, and conductive nanotubes, both so impossibly tangled together they are rendered completely useless.

That is, until just recently.

A team of researchers at McMaster University have developed a process that effectively separates the metallic nanotubes from their conductive counterparts, unlocking their true potential for everything from artificial muscle fibers to microscopic computer processors.

"Once we have a reliable source of pure nanotubes that are not very expensive, a lot can happen very quickly..."

Dr. Alex Adronov

"Once we have a reliable source of pure nanotubes that are not very expensive, a lot can happen very quickly," said Dr. Alex Adronov, a professor of chemistry and head of the McMaster University research team that made it possible to disperse the metallic portion of the nanotubes.

Both the metallic and conductive halves of a freshly formed nanotube are immensely valuable, but only when isolated, and for very different reasons.

Deeming the architectural applications of the metallic half “world-changing" might actually be an understatement. They are lightweight enough to emulate smoke, flexible enough to be spun into yarn, and 100 times stronger than steel.

And as to the recently isolated conductive half, virtually every silicone aspect of any and all existing electronics would be swiftly replaced with a carbon nanotube counterpart. For new applications, human ingenuity might be our only limit.

Andronov's team plans to continue whittling away at the microscopic carbon puzzle, with hopes of discovering even more impressive polymers and preparing the technology for widespread commercialization.

You can find the full results of the study here.


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