Email Print Share

"Tube-Essence" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.


Vanderbilt University engineers have discovered how to break carbon dioxide in air into carbon and oxygen, and then stitch the carbon together to make carbon nanotubes -- a valuable engineering material. What one researcher called "black gold," the tiniest carbon nanotubes are stronger than steel and more conductive than copper, and reducing their cost of production would be a boon for the manufacturing of tires and batteries.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Something in the air.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, new advances in science and engineering, from the National Science Foundation.

What is as -- oh, pop quiz -- What is as electrically conductive as copper and up to ten times as strong as steel, at one-sixth the weight?

(Sound effect: game show clock starts) Hmm, don't think I would have got this. (Sound effect: buzzer) (Sound effect: ding) Carbon nanotubes with small diameters. Who knew, right? Great stuff -- problem is -- they're very, eh, pricey. Which is why you don't see them in countless applications. That, and 'cause they're really tiny.

A team at Vanderbilt University has discovered the blueprint for making these valuable materials using carbon dioxide (Sound effect: sucking sound) sucked from the air! Mm-hm. And it's cheaper than any method out there.

Their process uses electrochemistry to pull apart carbon dioxide (Sound effect: cartoon pull and pop) into just carbon and oxygen. (Sound effect: pop pop) The carbon atoms are precisely (Sound effect: sewing machine) stitched together into new forms of matter. The nanotubes are super-materials with amazing properties but only if you can keep their diameters small enough when you make them.

The team found a way to tweak the electrochemistry (Sound effect: ratchet) to keep the tubes from getting too large.

The researchers believe cheap, small diameter nanotubes could "revolutionize the world," opening the door to build some of the most valuable materials out there from CO2 captured from the air.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (66.6 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.