Heralded as the strongest known structures, carbon nanotubes have caught the attention and imagination of scientists around the world. Resembling teeny sheets of chicken wire rolled into tubes, the nanoscale structures could produce tougher and lighter-weight materials for, say, space applications or automotive parts.
However, making macroscopic materials out of structures that are a billionth of a meter wide remains a challenge. Taking a step toward that goal, researchers now have devised a trick for making larger-scale fibers out of carbon nanotubes without compromising too much of the material's inherent strength.
To make fibers up to tens of microns across, scientists must align hundreds of the nanotubes into bundles. However, because the nanotubes slip and slide along each other, these fibers are weak.