Creating electricity with nanotubes

March 7, 2010 | 21:37
Creating electricity with nanotubes
Creating electricity with nanotubes
Carbon Nanotubes are VERY TINY cylindrical shaped carbon molecules. And when I say very tiny, I mean in the nanometer-scale (hence the name). These cylindrical molecules can have a thickness of only 1 atom, and a diameter of down to 1 nanometer (which is 1 millionth of a millimeter). To get an indication of this scale: while you pronounce the word 'nanometer', your hair actually grows 10 nanometers. Anyway, scientists have been studying these carbon nanotubes for a while now, since they have very interesting properties, besides being very small - they are very strong/hard/tough/conductive/etc.

Researchers at MIT recently discovered a new extremely cool property of carbon nanotubes: they can actually produce electricity. The way it works might sound a bit complicated, but what it comes down to is creating a 'heatwave' that sweeps electrons along in its movement, and thus creating electrical current. This might sound very abstract, but keep in mind we're talking about ridiculously small scales here :P.

The researchers created this thermal wave by coating a nanotube with a highly combustible fuel, and igniting it with a laser beam. This ignition creates a fast moving thermal wave along the tube, with heat moving into the tube. The heat inside the tube moves at a much higher speed than the heat on the fuel. In the super-fast moving heat, electrons get swept - the heatwave actually pushes them along. This results in an electrical current.

Now, if that sounded too much like rocket science to you, we can always resort to stating (semi-)hard facts!

"After further development, the system now puts out energy, in proportion to its weight, about 100 times greater than an equivalent weight of lithium-ion battery."

But as with any scientific discovery, it's hard to say what the practical use of this will be exactly. The potential of very tiny, highpowered things, does sound very good to me though! And the scientists agree, as Professor Michael Strano shares his future vision:

"enabling new kinds of ultra-small electronic devices — for example, a device the size of grains of rice"

That's all we wanted to hear, right?
(and if it's not, check out the pressrelease at EurekAlert!)
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