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Nanostitching Could Strengthen Airplane Skins

21 April 2009

MIT engineers are using carbon nanotubes to stitch together aerospace materials in work that could make airplane skins and other products some 10 times stronger.

Moreover, advanced composites reinforced with nanotubes are also more than one million times more electrically conductive than their counterparts without nanotubes, meaning aircraft built with such materials would have greater protection against damage from lightning, according to Brian L. Wardle, the Charles Stark Draper Assistant Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Wardle is lead author of a theoretical paper on the new nanotube-reinforced composites that will appear in the Journal of Composite Materials. He also described the work as keynote speaker at a Society of Plastics Engineers conference recently. “We convinced ourselves that reinforcing with nanotubes should work far better than all other approaches,” Wardle said. His team went on to develop processing techniques for creating the nanotubes and for incorporating them into existing aerospace composites, work that was published last year in two separate journals.





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