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Nanotubes are Trending News for Wearable Tech -- But What the Heck are They?

Sep 07, 2016 05:29 AM EDT

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are the future of wearable tech, they're performing better than silicon transistors, but it's pretty hard to get excited about something if you don't understand it. Here's your guide.

CNTs aren't news to the scientific community. They were discovered in 1991. Spherically shaped, CNTs are made up of carbon atoms that bond to form hexagonal shapes. They're simply a very tiny carbon-based structure.

Scientists are excited about the possibilities of CNTs because they possess a higher strength-to-weight ratio than any other (known) material. Nanotechnology touches all sorts of things in our lives, including but not limited to pharmaceuticals, fabrics, defense, electronics and manufacturing.

Challenges associated with CNTs have kept them from being used in the capacity scientists believe is possible. Researchers have recently been making breakthroughs in working with them, but some challenges still exist.

A team from University of Wisconsin-Madison has focused on using CNTs in wearable tech. Flexibility and stretchability make CNTs good candidates, but manufacturing costs, conductivity and transparency are all detractors.

Continued studies will be focused on making CNTs more viable in the wearable tech industry. Two companies in Japan have chosen to begin using CNTs in their development of touch screens.

CNTs also show promise for a generation of faster and less battery intensive electronics. After decades of experimentation in the scientific community, a UW-Madison researchers have created CNT transistors that have a higher conductivity than silicon transistors.

Theoretically, CNT transistors should easily be able to outperform silicon transistors. One main problem scientists have been facing is that most CNTs contain impurities that hamper their performance.

The UW-Madison team developed a method to remove the impurities from CNTs. They're already working on using CNTs to boost cellphone signal. Expect to see many more CNT developments throughout the next few years.

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