Nanotechnology coming to F1 in 2006?

Nanotechnology has tantalized researchers for decades, promising a new era in stronger and lighter electronic materials. Nanotechnology is the science of engineering such properties at the molecular, or nanometer, scale. For all its promise, the technology has mostly been locked in laboratories.

In Friday's edition of the journal Science, however, scientists from the University of Texas and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization report the creation of industry-ready sheets of materials made from nanotubes. Nanotubes are tiny carbon tubes with remarkable strength that are only a few times wider than atoms. They can also act as the semiconductors found in modern electronics.

"This is fundamentally a new material," says team leader Ray Baughman of the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson.

• Self-supporting, transparent and stronger than steel or high-strength plastics, the sheets are flexible and can be heated to emit light.

• A square mile of the thinnest sheets, about 2-millionths-of-an-inch thick, would weigh only about 170 pounds.

• In lab tests, the sheets demonstrated solar cell capabilities, using sunlight to produce electricity.

The team has developed an automated process that produced 2 ¾-inch-wide strips of nanotubes at a rate of about 47 feet per minute. Other methods take much longer to create nanotube sheets. "The technique is most elegant and the applications they've shown are quite impressive," says nanotube expert Shalom Wind of Columbia University in New York. Industry and academic researchers are already regarding nanotubes with avid interest, he adds.

Future applications that scientists have discussed include creating artificial muscles whose movement is electrically charged, or race cars with stronger, lighter bodies that could also serve as batteries, says chemist Andrew Barron of Rice University in Houston. "We could see this on Formula 1 (racing) cars by next season, says Barron. "This is a jumping-off point for a technology a lot of people will pursue." More at USA Today

[The ultimate Fuzzbuster: Nanotube enhanced Paint that can deflect radar is also anticipated in the not-too-distant future. Imagine running through a radar trap at 160 MPH and the police radar gun displaying 0.0 MPH.]

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