The golden secret behind spinning carbon-nanotube fibers
In 1991, while analyzing a sample of soot under an electron microscope at his NEC laboratory in Tokyo, chemist Sumio Iijima made the discovery of a lifetime. He identified needle-shape formations that became the first examples of the structures now widely appreciated as carbon nanotubes. Among high-tech materials, carbon nanotubes have ever since been on a steadily accelerating ascent to superstardom. Their physical talents warrant such status: They're lightweight, stronger than steel, and as stiff as diamonds, and they blow away most of the competition when it comes to conducting heat and electricity. In the past few years, carbon nanotubes have been making their way into prototype miniature devices, among them flat-panel displays, fuel cells, and electronic circuits.