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Nanotechnology Creates Super-Strong Fibres

06 July 2006

Researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have developed a new technology that can greatly enhance the strength of ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibre by adding carbon nanotubes.

Jointly developed by the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, the new technology is expected to pave the way for new UHMWPE applications, such as more comfortable and effective bullet-proof vests and extra-durable nautical rope.

The HKUST technology represents a significant breakthrough for researchers. Dr Ping Gao, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, said: ""The technology we have developed can effectively align nanotubes along the length of polymer fibres so the tensile strength of nanocomposite fibre becomes up to eight times stronger than steel.""

Prof Tong-Xi Yu, Chair Professor and Head of Mechanical Engineering, added: ""Materials with higher ductility are usually softer. The stiffer the materials, the less ductile they are. Our technology creates fibres that are both stiff and ductile-the ideal material for energy absorption.""

Postdoctoral researcher Dr Shilun Ruan, who fabricated and characterized the new materials during his PhD study at HKUST, said the materials could be utilized in both engineering and our daily lives. They can replace anti-ballistic and durable steel or other alloys as well as being used in many everyday products to enhance performance.

""As the materials can withstand very high tensile force, they can be used, for example, to produce tennis racket threads with stronger elasticity. When used as strings for musical instruments, the nanocomposite fibres can also generate beautiful, high-quality music,"" Dr Ruan said.






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