Nanotubes have been studied for some time, and there is a great interest in applying their incredible properties in practical applications. They are one-atom thick sheets of graphite (called graphene) rolled up into seamless cylinders with a diameter of the order of a nanometer.
A company in the US presented a revolutionary material made from carbon nanotubes, which exhibits extraordinary properties, being stronger than steel and in the same time much lighter and as good a conductor as aluminium.
Under high pressure, nanotubes can merge together, giving great possibility for producing strong, unlimited-length wires through high-pressure nanotube linking. The company has produced a kind of unwoven matting, which is treated chemically so that the tubes are aligned, giving the material has extra strength in the direction of alignment.
They found an ingenious solution for making bulk material with the same properties as the individual nanotubes, which allowed them to produce sheets roughly 1 meter by 3 meters, but they hope to be able to make bigger sheets within a year or so.
"The trick is that our nanotubes are much longer than usual - millimeters in length rather than micrometers," says Peter Antoinette, who heads the company. This results in a textile fabric seven times stronger than the steel of the same weight.
One important application of this product would be a body armor that is not only tough enough to withstand the impact with a bullet, but is also lightweight and flexible enough to cover most areas of the body, as opposed to today's bulletproof vests, that protect only the torso.
Among various organizations interested in testing the company's new product is the US Army's Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts, US, which part-funds Nanocomp, hopes to use the textile to actually build such body armors for the military.