Carbon Materials and Technological Advances

Carbon, one of the most abundant element in nature, has the ability to be combined chemically with itself and with other elements by strong covalent bonds resulting in a variety of structures that enable the development of materials of various properties. The carbon materials can be extremely hard as diamond or graphite as easily delaminated, very dense, high strength (composite materials carbon / carbon), and therefore suitable for structural applications (aircraft and racing cars), or very porous (activated carbon); the latter being useful as adsorbents for energy storage or as a support for catalysts. They can be highly conductive (graphite) or insulating (vitreous carbon). This broad spectrum of properties is reinforced by the fact that only carbon materials are capable of operating at high temperatures in the most extreme conditions.

The carbon materials have been gathered much attention with the discovery of fullerenes and nanotubes. However, traditional carbon materials have played an important role since prehistoric times (pigment in cave paintings, a component of gunpowder, writing) and have contributed to the industrial and technological development of our society (steel).

The discovery of carbon fibers in the ’60s, with its high strength and flexibility, was a major milestone in the development of these materials. In parallel, we discover the vitreous carbon, named after filing a conchoidal fracture surface, with properties similar to glass, very hard and brittle. At the same time, the discovery of new structural forms of graphitic carbon, needle and spherules, ostensibly contributed to the development of new carbon products for very diverse applications.

The excellent biocompatibility of carbon materials, discovered in the 70s, its use in prostheses, ligaments and heart valves, among others.

In the early ’80s, the development of technology for producing blocks of high density isotropic graphite allowed its use in high temperature reactors, in devices of synthesis of semiconductor crystals and to components of electric discharge electrodes. At mid-80s, the introduction of carbon fibers in civil engineering, architectural systems (buildings, bridges) with the discovery of fullerenes.

In the 90s, was discovered nanotubes, opening a new era for carbon materials: the era of the nanostructure. It is not just the world of carbon graphite flat structures or three-dimensional type diamond, but we are now with closed structures containing pentagons of carbon atoms and carbon tubes with diameters in the nanometer scale, made of a sheet simple curved carbon atoms in hexagonal distribution. The discovery of carbon nanotubes of a single wall (single) and multiple wall, stimulated the interest of scientists and engineers in fields related to nanotechnology. At the same time, new applications of the materials of the family of graphite, such as anode materials for Li-ion battery rechargeable carbon fiber water purification, activated carbon electrodes for electric double layer supercapacitors, etc..

More recently, in 2004, was developed the isolating graphene, a flat sheet structure of an atom thick. Its exceptional electrical properties have revolutionized the field of science, finding application in electronics (ultra-fast computers, replacing the silicon), in the future construction of space elevators, personal protection systems (body armor) in the field of security etc.. In July 2008, researchers at Columbia University confirmed that this is the strongest material so far identified.

The Fine Line Between Science and Science Fiction

Science is based on fact, while science fiction is based on imagination. Where exactly is the fine line between them? What I really find interesting is that sometimes imagination becomes science. Many products, inventions and innovative ideas began as a thought and manifested into reality. The telephone, television and even the social Internet were born in the imagination, but came to life through intelligent innovation.

Writers, especially of science fiction, create places, people and things (vampires, heroes, creatures) that have some bases of truth. There are vampire bats that suck blood. This came to mind because years ago I was writing a story called E.A.R.T.H.

This stands for Experimental Action to Reach Terrestrial Harmony. It was about Captain Hendrick, leader of the Star Ship Nabin, who hears about his father’s death on a scientific lab station. An explosion nearly eradicated the outpost, except for a file he locates about an experiment his father was working on, called E.A.R.T.H

After obtaining permission from the Inter-Galactic Counsel, he sets out to finish the evaluation of this project in memory of his father.

Landing on the far side of the moon, Hendrick and his crew send an infra-laser camera to take pictures of life on Earth so they will be able to duplicate things and mingle un-noticed, with the inhabitants.

The story details his findings that show a planet still in primitive social development and without a peaceful environment. Many crewmembers develop relationships with the earthlings and there is a mix opinion whether this experiment is a success or failure.

At the close of the story and his return home, Captain Hendrick, now in love with a human from Earth, has to persuade the Inter-Galactic Counsel not to destroy the planet. He learns that Earth was created as an experiment, combining all unique creatures from other galaxies to see if they could peacefully co-habituate. The Inter-Galactic Counsel deems E.A.R.T.H as a failed experiment and Hendrick is ordered to destroy it. The story has a surprise ending.

Even though this story is science fiction, there actual is a camera today that can be airborne, but invisible to the eye. It was written in 1990, yet some of this science fiction is now science.

It is fact that other galaxies or even universes are out in space, even though we cannot see them, we know they are somewhere in outer space.

Even though science and science fiction can be worlds apart, the line between them can be small and narrow. Think about the movies, Inception, Avatar and The Matrix, which used advanced technology that may one day become realities. What if one day some of these concepts, prove to be true. It would rock our world.

Then there are the creative science fiction writers like Stephen King, H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne and George Orwell. They drew us into make believe worlds that drive our minds to wonder what is possible.

I remember reading the book 1984 by George Orwell and there was a Big Television in every home, which watched the citizens of Oceania. Just think about it, isn’t what the Internet does today?

We all have untapped creativity in our brains. Add a little imagination and you never know what can be manifested. Many talented people in the arts, music and motion picture industry deserve credit for crossing these lines by their unique and open imaginations.

Even the illusionist and magicians test our minds to determine what divides reality. Maybe that is the purpose of our minds, when we dream. For in this human state they cannot detect the difference between what is real and illusion.

Why not ponder the brotherhood of science and science fiction and the possibilities offered when those line cross?