A Moment of Science

Buckypaper

What's six times lighter than steel but up to 250 times stronger?

bucky_ball

Photo: James Canavan

Here's a hint: The answer is related to Carbon 60, or "buckyballs."

What’s six times lighter than steel but up to 250 times stronger?

Give up?

Here’s a hint: The answer is related to Carbon 60, or “buckyballs,” well-known molecules nicknamed for their spherical shape and powerful atomic bonds that make them twice as hard as diamonds.

Still thinking?

The answer is, well, nothing exists that’s stronger than steel while remaining lightweight, that is until recently.

Now researchers at the Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies are testing a super-material known as “buckypaper.” This unique material, a film made of 100% carbon nanotubes, is the answer to the riddle.

Carbon nanotubes are incredibly small, about 1/50,000th the diameter of a human hair, to be exact. Buckypaper is lighter and stronger than steel, as well as highly conductive of heat and electricity, and its carbon composition makes it incredibly strong, much like the atomic bonds of buckyballs.

What can these tiny, super-strong fibers do? Consider this: Are you ready for your iPod Nano to shrink even smaller? Buckypaper is now one of the most thermally conductive materials known, and could allow the development of more efficient heat dissipation, making electronic miniaturization easier than ever.

How about flying during a torrential storm, without the worry that lightning could damage your plane? Buckypaper carries very high amounts of current. If a film made from this material were applied to the outside of planes, lightning would simply flow around the plane and dissipate, yet the craft would remain lightweight.

Will buckypaper revolutionize science? Well, patents are pending.

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