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September 8th, 2008
An elevator that leads into space might sound farfetched, but scientists have been seriously considering it for years — and work at the University of Connecticut could end up being a key part of it actually happening.
UConn chemistry professor Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos, 43, believes he and his team of researchers have found a way to harness the potential of nanotubes — an extremely strong material made from carbon molecules. Their work was recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Sang-Yong Ju, a doctoral candidate in polymer science, is the lead author.
If the West Hartford resident is right about the potential of their work, it could lead to practical applications for everything from new drug delivery systems to better tennis rackets.
And, yes, a space elevator. It's an idea that's been around for more than a century, but never seriously considered until recent breakthroughs in nanotube technology.
It's pretty much what it sounds like. The most commonly touted vision of the space elevator involves a paper-thin ribbon made from carbon nanotubes that brings carrier cars thousands of miles into orbit. The ribbon would be tethered to the Earth's surface, while a counterweight at the other end — a space station, perhaps — would float in orbit. The centrifugal force from the Earth's rotation would keep the line taut.
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