American Elephants


The Exciting and Tantalizing Possibilities of the New Materials. by The Elephant's Child

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The potential uses of the new materials sound like science fiction: here’s a new electrically conducting fiber for— artificial muscles, exoskeletons and morphing aircraft. The fiber is made from sheets of carbon nanotubes wrapped around a rubber core, and can be stretched to 14 times its original length and actually increases its electrical conductivity while being stretched, without losing any of its resistance.

An international research team based at the University of Texas at Dallas initially targeted the new super fiber for artificial muscles and for capacitors whose storage capacity increase tenfold when the fiber is stretched. The researchers now believe that the material could be used as interconnects in flexible electronics and a host of other related applications.

The team has published research in the Journal Science describing how they devised a method for wrapping electrically conductive sheets of carbon nanotubes around the rubber core in such a way that the fiber’s resistance does not change when stretched, but its conductivity increases.

I wish they had indicated the amount of magnification in the photo above, for those of us who are definitely not materials scientists.

The researchers have also been able to add a thin coat of rubber to the sheath-core fibers and then another carbon nanotube sheath to create strain sensors and artificial muscles. In this setup, the buckled nanotube sheets act as electrodes and the thin rubber coating serves as the dielectric. Voilà! You have a fiber capacitor.

“This technology could be well-suited for rapid commercialization,” said Raquel Ovalle-Robles, one of the paper’s authors, in the press release. “The rubber cores used for these sheath-core fibers are inexpensive and readily available. The only exotic component is the carbon nanotube aerogel sheet used for the fiber sheath.”

As new materials have been discovered or invented, there is a mad rush for patents on potential uses, I  gather based on informed guesses, by corporations hoping to develop what the scientists discover. Free enterprise at work.

For other posts on the new materials, enter “new materials” in the search function over Bob Hope’s head in the sidebar.


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