Science has been working on a problem that has been holding back technological revolution for some time now, and they’ve finally solved it. The problem in question? Untangling wires. Tiny, microscopic wires.
Carbon nanotubes are tiny semiconductors that will one day replace silicon in computer chips and other electronics. They are inexpensive to make and easy to mass produce, and once they’re in full production we will see all sorts of technological innovations such as self-updating newspapers, or the photographs in Harry Potter fully-realized at last.
At one-billionth of a metre in diameter and thousands of types longer, these things make human hairs look like sausages. They are microscopic, flexible, and can tangle so badly you’ll be thankful for your Christmas lights in comparison.
Specifically, they tangle with their counterparts, with which they are always created. Heating carbon-based gases to a point where clusters of nanotubes form spontaneously as black soot yields these nanotubes. But when this happens, metallic nanotubes and semiconducting nanotubes are created together. Both of these components are valuable when separated, but when stuck together are as frustratingly useless as the headphones at the bottom of your handbag.
Now, researchers at the McMaster University have finally cracked the problem. There has long existed a polymer (a chemical reaction of bonding molecules) that can break down semiconducting nanotubes while leaving the metallic ones intact. The researchers have been able to reverse the electronic characteristics of this polymer, allowing it to do the opposite. Now, metallic nanotubes can be dispersed while leaving the semiconducting ones intact.
Now that we finally have a way to separate these two kinds of nanotubes, we can finally unlock their true potential. The researchers at McMaster University are now looking at the next step – finding more efficient means of producing the polymer itself, so this process can be scaled up for commercial production.
But with the hardest part over, you can look forward to electronic devices that make your fancy tablets look like primitive stone slabs coming to a store near you! Probably at exorbitant prices, but that’s another matter entirely.