Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Are Carbon Nanotubes Self Healing?

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One of the basic building blocks of a space elevator are carbon nanotubes (or CNT). Despite their promise of making the space elevator feasible, unless the CNT ribbon can be repaired, space elevators may enjoy a short lifespan due to radiation from the Sun, micrometeorites, and wear and tear from climbers traveling up and down the ribbon.

But it seems as if some scientists have discovered unique feature of carbon nanotubes, which may help extend the CNT ribbon's warranty.

(ScienceDaily) The Rice University-led study offers the first explanation of how such tiny cylinders of carbon, no wider than a strand of DNA, can be so resilient: tiny "blemishes" crawl over the skin of damaged tubes, sewing up larger holes as they go.

"The shape and direction of this imperfection does not change and it never gets any larger," said Professor Boris Yakobson, the study's lead investigator. "We were amazed by it, but upon further study we found a good explanation. The atomic irregularity acts as a kind of safety valve, allowing the nanotube to release excess energy, in much the way that a valve allows steam to escape from a kettle."

If scientists can further exploit this trait, CNT'S could be engineered to last for decades before needing a "tune up." The space elevator's current weakness lies along the lines of actually repairing damage to the ribbon, which needs to be seriously addressed in order to avoid the whole structure from collapsing due to the elements as well as friction from the climbers.

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

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~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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