Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Carbon nanotubes, atom-thick sheets of carbon, are among the strongest known materials. They already add their strength and toughness to several products on the market, including many bicycle frames. It’s not surprising, then, that carbon nanotubes can also improve the properties of advanced aerospace materials.

Airplane skins are composed of composite materials made up of layers of carbon fibers held together by polymer glue. They can fail when the glue cracks and the fibers come apart, and reinforcing them is tricky. Using pins and stitching might seem like a good idea, but this can pierce and weaken the carbon layers. Researchers led by Brian Wardle, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, have now strengthened these advanced aerospace materials with what they call “nanostitching.” Rows of carbon nanotubes perpendicular to the carbon microfibers fill the spaces between them, reinforcing the fiber layers without piercing them.

According to theoretical work to be published by the MIT group in the Journal of Composite Materials, these materials are not only 10 times stronger than those that don’t contain nanotubes, but they are also more than one million times more electrically conductive, which suggests that they might protect aircraft from lightning strikes.

MIT aeronautics and astronautics professor Brian Wardle shows a composite material strengthened by carbon nanotubes. Credit: Donna Coveney/MIT

1 comment. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Materials, carbon nanotubes, nanomaterials, aerospace, airplane, strength, composite

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me