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A Super-Stretchy Future With Carbon Nanotubes

Amanda Siegfried
UT Dallas
Ray Baughman of the NanoTech Institute in Dallas outlines the potential of carbon nanotubes with KERA's Justin Martin

Carbon nanotubes are a kind of material that might be used for everything from reinforcing muscles to conducting electricity. A new variant of the substance created at the University of Texas at Dallas could unlock a future of bendable technology. Ray Baughman runs the NanoTech Institute at UT Dallas

  Interview Highlights: Ray Baughman ... 

... on what are carbon nanotubes: "Carbon nanotubes are extremely small cylinders of carbon. They can be one ten-thousandths the diameter of the human hair. They have an array of novel electronic and mechanical properties. Individual nanotubes can be ten times stronger than any fiber that is made by humankind. They just have a combination wonderful properties which people are trying to exploit"

Pacemaker demonstration video (below):

Scientists at UT Dallas tested whether the new material could be used as a conductive wire in a pacemaker cable. The video shows that the voltage pulses from the pacemaker are not affected by even extreme fiber twisting, stretching and bending.

... on the super-stretchy nanotubes UT Dallas created: "We've discovered that we can use carbon nanotubes to make super-stretchy fibers. These fibers can be stretched to as much as thirty times their initial length and still not increase in resistance. In fact, some of these fibers if we stretch them ten times their initial length, their electrical conductivity actually increases over a hundred times and this increase in electrical conductivity with stretch is about hundred times higher than people have been able to discover before."

... on the potential for this new material: "Most carbon nanomaterials are very brittle, you can elongate them only less than a few percent. These new super-stretchy fibers that are electronic conductors we can elongate them by as much as a factor of thirty. So, we can super-stretchy charge cords for your electronic gear, you can talk about humanoid robots in the future which have super-stretchy arms to manipulate or exoskeletons that a soldier could wear in the battlefield and have benefits of super reach. These super-stretchy fibers are so exciting as muscles that can contract to do mechanical work or it can rotate a paddle for example in a pump for a medical device. These combinations of properties to us are very exciting."

Ray Baughman is the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Chemistry at UT Dallas and director of the NanoTech Institute. 

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.