About 15 years ago, the world was supposed to be witnessing the start of a revolution. Scientists said so in grant proposals and white papers. Public relations officers said so in press releases. Reporters said so in magazine articles. Carbon nanotubes were going to change the world.
They could power better televisions. They could replace the silicon in transistors and cutting-edge electronics. They could be used to build an elevator to space. But the nanotube revolution was not televised, silicon is still king of the semiconductors, and space elevators are not currently shuttling passengers to the moon.
So what happened? That’s what Ajayan, who has researched nanotubes for decades, is explaining to C&EN. The short answer, he says, is the same thing that happens with virtually every other exciting new material: hype.
The Chemical and Engineering news’ latest issue features a cover story on carbon nanotubes, the 1-dimensional nanosized cylinders of pure carbon that I did my PhD thesis on.
They interview many key players (and familiar names to anyone in the field), and also provide an excellent historical overview and statistics on current production and demand. A recommended, if somewhat US-centric, read. You can find the article here: Twists and Shouts: A Nanotube Story.
Edit: A couple of weeks later, Nature published a couple of news features that address very similar issues in graphene. You can read them here: Graphene booms in factories but lacks a killer app, and here: