A carbon molecule that resembles a cylinder made out of chicken wire one to two nanometers in diameter by any number of millimeters in length. Accidentally discovered by a Japanese researcher at NEC in 1990 while making Buckyballs, they have potential use in many applications. With a tensile strength 10 times greater than steel at about one quarter the weight, nanotubes are considered the strongest material for their weight known to mankind.
Currently used to strengthen plastics and carbon fibers, nanotubes have the potential for making ultra-strong fabrics as well as reinforcing structural materials in buildings, cars and airplanes. In the future, nanotubes may replace silicon in electronic circuits, and prototypes of elementary components have been developed. In 1998, IBM and NEC created nanotube transistors, and three years later, IBM created a NOT gate using two nanotube transistors. Nanotubes are already used as storage cells in Nantero's non-volatile memory chips (see NRAM
), and they are expected to be used in the construction of sensors and display screens.
Single Walled and Multiwalled
Single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) use a single sheath of graphite one atom thick, called "graphene." Multiwalled nanotubes (MWNTs) are either wrapped into multiple layers like a parchment scroll or are constructed of multiple cylinders, one inside the other. See Buckyball
The Chicken Wire Tube
At the molecular level, a single-walled carbon nanotube looks a lot like rolled up chicken wire with hexagonal cells. The number of applications that may ultimately benefit from carbon nanotubes is enormous.