Department of Chemistry

School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

UTD Scientists Share International Innovation Prize for Nanotechnology Breakthrough

RICHARDSON, Texas (June 10, 2005) – Scientists at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) NanoTech Institute, together with an Australian collaborator, were honored this week at an international conference in Frankfurt, Germany, for their breakthrough in spinning carbon nanofibers into multifunctional yarns that demonstrate remarkable properties and have many promising potential applications.

At a gathering on Monday of more than 20,000 scientists, technologists and industrialists from around the world, the scientists were presented the New Materials Innovation Prize of the Avantex International Forum for Innovative Textiles. The advance for which they were honored involved assembling untold trillions of nanosize fibers into strong, tough, electronically conducting yarns that hold promise for such diverse applications as electronic textiles, artificial muscles, anti-ballistic vests, supercapacitors, fuel cells and wires connecting to neurons in damaged limbs. This major award recognizes the scientific and technological importance of the breakthrough in downsizing ancient technology of wool and cotton spinning to the nanoscale.

The breakthrough resulted from an unusual collaboration involving UTD nanotechnologists Dr. Mei Zhang and Dr. Ray H. Baughman and a noted expert in wool spinning, Dr. Ken Atkinson of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), an Australian national laboratory. The world first learned of the results of their work when they published a paper in the Nov. 19, 2004, issue of the prestigious journal, Science. Their more recent work is in enabling process upscale, optimizing properties, expanding applications opportunities and understanding fundamental scientific aspects – and that work has been dramatically accelerated by the efforts of Dr. Shaoli Fang, a research scientist at UTD, and Dr. Anvar Zakhidov, associate director of the UTD NanoTech Institute.

While individual nanotubes are well known to have remarkable properties, they are like minute bits of string, and many trillions of these invisible nanotubes must be assembled in a fraction of a second to make useful yarn, according to Baughman, a co-inventor of the technology and Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry at UTD and director of the UTD NanoTech Institute.

“We accomplish this by a novel solid-state spinning process, so restrictions on nanotube length and corresponding yarn properties for wet spinning processes can be avoided,” he explained.

The nanotubes in the yarns, comprising seamless cylinders of carbon arrayed like rings in a tree trunk, are many thousands of times thinner than a human hair.

Pending patents, co-owned by UTD and CSIRO, describe the nanotube yarn spinning process and applications in artificial muscles, protective clothing, thermal heat pipes, sensors, electron field emitters, ultra-high intensity lamps, displays, structural composites, supercapacitors, batteries, fuel cells and electronic textiles. These and related pending patents in the nanotechnology area will be offered for license in November.

The research that led to the New Materials Innovation Prize was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the United States Department of Defense, NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Texas Advanced Technology Program, the Robert A. Welch Foundation and the Strategic Partnership for Research in Nanotechnology (SPRING).

  • Updated: July 20, 2005