Nanotechnology 101: Carbon Nanotubes By Argiris Malapanis Nanotechnology is a word that evokes high technology, cutting-edge research, and even science fiction to many who hear it. Although most people have a general understanding of what nanotechnology is in principle, relatively few understand the specifics of the various practical products of nanotechnology research and development. One of the most common structures in modern nanotechnology is the carbon nanotube. Carbon nanotubes were first created following extensive research into fullerenes, which are simply molecules made out of carbon atoms arranged into a lattice- or cage-like configuration. Creative scientists came up with the notion of joining together molecule-thin sheets of fullerenes and then essentially “rolling” the sheets into tubes or cylinders. The resulting nanotube has almost no diameter (only a few nanometers), but can be made nearly a millimeter long, an unheard-of width-to-length ratio. Furthermore, it is remarkably strong and resilient. The unique properties of carbon nanotubes are still being explored, but the number of potential practical uses for them is growing daily. For example, nanotube circuitry could allow computer microprocessors to be many times more densely packed, and therefore many times more powerful, than the silicon chips of today. Nanotubes also have myriad exciting potential medical applications, owing to their strength and tiny size. Given time, carbon nanotubes are likely to become an integral tool in dozens of different industries. About the Author: Research assistant Argiris Malapanis works for the SUNY Research Foundation of Albany, New York, in carbon nanotube research. He is a Ph.D. candidate whose work in the field has been published several times.