Fla. -- Working with a material 10 times lighter
than steel -- but 250 times stronger -- would be
a dream come true for any engineer. If this material
also had amazing properties that made it highly
conductive of heat and electricity, it would start
to sound like something out of a science fiction
novel. Yet one Florida State University research group, the Florida Advanced
Center for Composite Technologies (FAC2T), is working to develop real-world
applications for just such a material.
Wang, a professor of industrial engineering at
the Florida A&M University-FSU College of
Engineering in Tallahassee, Fla. , serves as director
of FAC2T (www.fac2t.eng.fsu.edu), which works to
develop new, high-performance composite materials,
as well as technologies for producing them.
is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in the growing
field of nano-materials science. His main area
of research, involving an extraordinary material
known as "buckypaper," has shown promise in a variety
of applications, including the development of aerospace
structures, the production of more-effective body
armor and armored vehicles, and the construction
of next-generation computer displays. The U.S. military
has shown a keen interest in the military applications
of Wang's research; in fact, the Army Research Lab
recently awarded FAC2T a $2.5-million grant, while
the Air Force Office of Scientific Research awarded
"At FAC2T, our objective is to push the envelope
to find out just how strong of a composite material
we can make using buckypaper," Wang said. "In addition,
we're focused on developing processes that will allow
it to be mass-produced cheaply."
is made from carbon nanotubes -- amazingly strong
fibers about 1/50,000th the diameter of a human
hair that were first developed in the early 1990s.
Buckypaper owes its name to Buckminsterfullerene,
or Carbon 60 -- a type of carbon molecule whose powerful
atomic bonds make it twice as hard as a diamond.
Sir Harold Kroto, now a professor and scientist with
FSU's department of chemistry and biochemistry, and
two other scientists shared the 1996 Nobel Prize
in Chemistry for their discovery of Buckminsterfullerene,
nicknamed "buckyballs" for the molecules' spherical
shape. Their discovery has led to a revolution in
the fields of chemistry and materials science --
and directly contributed to the development of buckypaper.
Among the possible uses for buckypaper that are
being researched at FAC2T:
- If exposed to an electric charge, buckypaper
could be used to illuminate computer and television
screens. It would be more energy-efficient, lighter,
and would allow for a more uniform level of brightness
than current cathode ray tube (CRT) and liquid
crystal display (LCD) technology.
- As one of the most thermally conductive materials
known, buckypaper lends itself to the development
of heat sinks that would allow computers and other
electronic equipment to disperse heat more efficiently
than is currently possible. This, in turn, could
lead to even greater advances in electronic miniaturization.
- Because it has an unusually high current-carrying
capacity, a film made from buckypaper could be
applied to the exteriors of airplanes. Lightning
strikes then would flow around the plane and dissipate
without causing damage.
also could protect electronic circuits and devices
within airplanes from electromagnetic interference,
which can damage equipment and alter settings.
Similarly, such films could allow military aircraft
to shield their electromagnetic "signatures," which
can be detected via radar.
FAC2T "is at the very forefront of a technological revolution that will
dramatically change the way items all around us are produced," said Kirby
Kemper, FSU's vice president for Research. "The group of faculty,
staff, students and post-docs in this center have been visionary
in their ability to recognize the tremendous potential of nanotechnology.
The potential applications are mind-boggling."
FSU has four U.S. patents pending that are related to its buckypaper
In addition to his academic and scientific responsibilities, Wang recently
was named FSU's assistant vice president for Research. In this role,
he will help to advance research activities at the College of Engineering
and throughout the university.
"I look forward to bringing researchers together to pursue rewarding
research opportunities," Wang said. "We have very knowledgeable
and talented faculty and students, and I will be working with them
to help meet their full potential for advancement in their fields."