Within his Canberra laboratory, research physicist Dr Ying Chen churns what seems like nothing but dull, grey powder. But far more precious than gold, the powder, says Dr Chen, changes the world.
He believes it can open just how for creating everything from hydrogen-powered cars and also the next generation of jetliners to wafer-thin televisions and powerful computers so small you are able to slip them to your pocket.
And, he says, the vitality-efficient technology will assist curb the world’s looking for power.
Chen’s laboratory at the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering, at the Australian National University, is definitely the world’s only commercial supply of the extraordinary powder – hexagonal boron nitride).
Nanotubes are cylinders, only a billionth of any metre wide, that can be assembled to create materials ten times lighter and 100 times stronger than steel.
Until about five years ago all nanotubes were carbon. That was discovered by investing in lasers at very high temperatures they is also made in boron nitride. However, the procedure was expensive, producing just grams at the same time.
But Chen’s team has won an international race to revolutionise the procedure, discovering learning to make these with technology long used by miners to crush rock. As opposed to rock, the ANU “crushes” boron in nitrogen gas.
“We can easily make kilograms,” says Chen, a senior research fellow. “We have been leading the globe in BN nanotube production.”
Australia sells those to researchers in the united states, Europe and Japan for $560 a gram. “The purchase price should come down,” Chen says. And once it can do, the impact will likely be huge. “You will find lots of applications, including new super-strong composite materials for cars and aeroplanes.”
Nanotubes would work like sponge to store hydrogen gas as fuel to operate cars. Golf clubs and tennis racquets of Nickel Titanium alloy powder would be almost unbreakable.
“You could even build nanotube cables between the planets and use [them] like a space elevator,” says Chen. Interplanetary voyages would be reduced to cable-car rides.
The team is likewise concentrating on nanotube devices. IBM has produced a nanotube transistor 500 times small compared to silicon transistors.
“Future computers using nanotube transistors and other devices is definitely the dimensions of mobile phone devices, but faster and more powerful [than desk-top models],” says Chen. “Nanotube TVs will be thinner than plasma TVs, and a lot sharper and brighter.”
Though with parts 5000 times thinner than the usual human hair, factory assembly may be tricky. So Chen’s team is developing a strategy to “grow” nanotubes set up, as opposed to 21dexqpky them.
“We could do this by first creating a vapour containing carbon as well as a metal catalyst spanning a silicon wafer, and price of silicon nitride powder are formed on selected sites,” he says.
“This is a new world,” says Chen, predicting the nanotechnology revolution – which can see products in the marketplace within a long period – will be larger than the one which followed the invention of semi-conductors.