According to an ORNL press release, by adapting conventional glass fiber drawing technology to process carbon nanotubes into multichannel assemblies, researchers believe they have the potential to mimic the human nervous system.
“Our goal is to use our discovery to mimic nature’s design using artificial sensors to effectively restore a person’s ability to sense objects and temperatures,” says Ilia Ivanov, a researcher in the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences Division.
The ultimate goal is to duplicate the function of a living system by combining the existing technology of glass fiber drawing with the multifunctionality of submicron (0.4 micron) scale carbon nanotubes, according to Ivanov, who described the process.
“We make this material in a way similar to what you may have done in high school when making a glass capillary over a Bunsen burner,” Ivanovsays . “There, you would take the glass tube, heat it up and pull, or draw, as soon as the glass became soft.”
Ivanov and John Simpson of the Measurement Science and Systems Engineering Division are doing something similar except they use thousands of glass tubes filled with carbon nanotube powder. After several draw cycles, they demonstrated that they could make fibers just four times thicker than a human hair containing 19,600 submicron channels with each channel filled with conducting carbon. Each carbon nanotube-containing channel is electrically insulated from its neighbors by glass so it can be used as an individual communication channel.
This multichannel composite has many other potential uses, including in aeronautics and space applications, where low weight of conducting wires is important. The next steps are to make these channels highly conductive and then show sensor communication through individual channels.