Conference explores nanotube advances

State News Staff Writer

 A tubular structure 100,000 times thinner than human hair has brought more than 100 researchers to East Lansing.

 The structure, called a nanotube, is the subject of a four day conference being held at the Marriott East Lansing University Place, 300 M.A.C. Ave. The conference began Saturday and runs through Tuesday.

 Carbon nanotubes are atoms arraigned in a honeycomb pattern with the edges joined together to make a cylinder. The nanotubes, discovered around 1991, are extremely light and strong.

 "People have been doing science on nanotubes for a long time, but only just now are people beginning to develop products," said Keith Williams, a physics graduate student from the University of Kentucky.

 Applications include paper thin, flat paneled television sets, compact batteries and faster and smaller computers.

 It will be a long time before consumers see these products available, said Williams, also the interim treasurer for CarboLex, a company that produces nanotubes.

 "Everything you have seen in micro electronics is now going to be replaced with nano - and on approximately a 1,000 times smaller scale," Williams said. 

"So everything that is done in micro will be done smaller and much more efficiently. We expect very, very fast computers, but that is all way down the road."

 Williams came to the conference, where some of those products are on display, to collect information from experienced researchers.

 "This is a gathering of just about all the biggest names in nanotube technology," he said. "So far I think everybody is learning a lot. There is a lot of optimism and plenty of energy."

 Nanotubes are important for their potential uses, said David Tomanek, professor of physics at MSU and a conference organizer.

 "The most likely application is in the micro-electronic industry," he said. "Nanotube research is one of the five or 10 most exciting research directions presently in physics."

 It's hard to estimate how long until those products will be available, Tomanek said.

 Priscilla Simonis, a doctoral student at the University of Namur in Belgium, said the conference has been enjoyable.

 "There are a lot of people that are very interesting and that I am impressed by," she said.

 Simonis did her undergraduate thesis on nanotubes and decided to pursue a doctoral degree in the field.

 "For me it is like geometry, it is quite easy. You can see them, you can touch them, and you can make a whole lot of things with them. It is incredible," she said. 

All content © 1999 The State News