Friday, March 31, 2006

More Carbon Magic

Without the unique chemical bonding properties of carbon, life--including us--couldn't exist. These same properties explain why carbon's possible combinations with only a few other simple atoms, including hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur, seem nearly infinite, giving rise to the fields of organic chemistry, biochemistry and biotechnology, and supplying 85% of the world's current energy needs. But in spite of that remarkable complexity, until recently we thought that pure carbon only appeared in a couple of forms, the graphite and diamonds we've known about for ages, plus the "fullerenes": Buckyballs and Buckytubes (also known as carbon nanotubes) that were discovered in the 1980s and early 1990s. Now there seems to be another form, graphene, with some very interesting properties, including perhaps some nifty energy-saving ones.

I'm embarrassed to say I first read about this in the Economist last week, but a little Googling turned up many other references. It was apparently discovered in 2004, which is an eye-blink ago in science but eons in Web terms. How does anyone stay abreast of everything that's happening?

Initial thoughts about graphene seem to be focused on its potential as a sort of room-temperature superconductor, apparently passing along electric currents at relativistic velocities. This may have exciting applications in electronics, as well as for reducing the losses associated with long-distance power transmission. But it is early days. After more than a decade of research graphene's cousin, carbon nanotubes, is showing promise, among other things as a low-cost, low-weight storage medium for hydrogen for use in cars and other applications. They may also have a role in helping sequester carbon dioxide and thus keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it warms us up. They could also be the key to creating cables with enough tensile strength to build a "space elevator," which would enable us to put things--and people--in earth orbit without using rockets.

If the properties and versatility of graphene turn out to be anything like the fullerenes, it's a reasonable bet that some very interesting and unexpected possibilities will emerge. It's at least something else to track.

5 comments:

tonyon said...

Hexapentas for space elevator future

tonyon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tonyon said...

(1a)... ☼ ← O ♦▬↔▬▬▬▬▬▬→▬▬▬☺ → ☼ ...space-elevator (railroad to the moon)...a hyper-speed vertical electric train of Magnetic Levitation with Moon destination...energy receiving from nuclear electric generator on Moon...with only emergency brake rockets...((from Earth, passengers in rocket to space-elevator of Moon located between 20,000 and 70,000 kms high...or...)) awaits passengers almost each perigee in the gyratory World´s around in 27.55 days Pendant♦Station, size as an aircraft carrier, located between 9 and 43,638 kms, "50000 + 9 - 6371" (by elliptic Moon orbit) from Earth surface, and by 1 track (1 train monorail, half length above half length below through Station´s floor, with thin sheet lead anti-radiations), carbon nanotubes track made in hinge joint sections, such as a bike chain drive (so, also the Station can modify its own height with 10 kms/hour speed, starting each perigee to preparing the height for the next (10 kms/h*24 h*27.55 days = 6,612 kms max. height adjustment capacity for next perigee), staying almost all perigees at 9 kms height from Earth´s surface, going due to the continuous changes of Moon´s perigee, upwards for avoid Station crash against ground!!...or downwards, by the zipper track carrying the track´s excess... Track with 367,883 kms in total length ((347,883 kms minimum length (356000 "minimum distance between Earth/Moon centers" - 6371 "Earth med. radius" - 9 - 1737 "Moon radius") + 20,000 kms reserve length for Moon´s perigee changes, with situation lights along, little mirrors reflecting Sun light, and radar´s reflectors making well visible the Track for spacecrafts...)) at the upper end attached to the Moon surface...

Geoffrey Styles said...

Space elevators and tethers (elevator in space not connected to ground) would open up the entire solar system. Fascinating possibilities.

tonyon said...

... ☼↓↓↓▓▬▬▬▬←▬▬▬▬▬↓☺▬▬▒→▬▬Space elevator (orbital station centrifugal 1g)... faraway high beyond Earth surface at 183,754 kms...fast orbital speed 49,913 kms/hour...could be the counterweight great Terminal Orbital Station-1g centrifugal force... Awaits passengers in Earth Station a hyper-speed vertical electric train of Magnetic Levitation... "Spatial Train coming from Orbital Station-1g and Orbital Station-0g at the moment arriving will depart again after one hour, passengers with Moon destination please embark on ship-coach when will be hooked at train´s end"...medium-speed = 5,000 kms/hour: Earth/Orbital Station-0g, distance = 35,786 kms...total travel time = 7 hours... Orbital Station-0g/Orbital Station-1g, distance = 147,968 kms...total travel time = 29.6 hours... Well seized from retractable cogwheels, with slow-speed at the beginning travel of strong gravitation from Earth (or strong centrifugal force from Orbital Station-1g), with conventional zipper track... THE TRAIN DEPARTS►... starting horizontal, when train goes climbing is vertical, living compartments turn 90º...already enough far, with little gravitational Earth attraction: MAGLEV on...Cogwheels off... Here we go...goooooo!...hyper-speed→...passengers stayed in comfortable compartments...←already braking enough near from each Station...slow-speed, changes propulsion system again: COGWHEELS on...Maglev off... 7 hours: half length above half length below through Station´s floor, Train is vertical at zero-speed, near from water-recycling plant with carbon nanotube´s filters, the passengers disembark at destination: Geo 0g-Station... Tour continuing again... THE TRAIN DEPARTS►... already arriving at dominant G centrifugal field...within of train, living compartments turn 180º... (braking...km 50,630: Launching Point, train is at zero-speed, rear ship-coach is unhokked staying alone, again... THE TRAIN DEPARTS►... ship-coach, while Earth turns, awaits patient the hour for releasing from track and going to Moon with exact heading...now...takeoff and goes transferring orbits till Moon orbit where firing rocket again, brakes and lands on Moon☺Station... "Come to occult face with us and visiting the ancient Alien in ruins city"...and once recharged with propellant and passengers return conventionally to Earth)... Already enough near from Terminal (electromagnetic shield anti-radiation and UV rays protection)...slowly by zipper track train´s cogwheels are braking strongly "downhill"... 29.6 hours: Train is horizontal on Terminal at zero-speed, near from ship´s launching ramp towards Jupiter/interstellar Space, in spectacular and covered by transparent graphene´s domes with Earth views always in the ceiling, the passengers disembark at destination: counterweigh centrifugal 1g-Station.