Researchers have developed a nanotube fiber that can maintain its conductivity even when stretched more than fourteen times its length, opening the door to stretchy charging cords and morphing aircraft.
The nanofiber, developed at the University of Texas, is already being used to create artificial muscles and capacitors able to story about ten times more energy when stretched. The team created the fiber by wrapping nanotube sheets around a core of rubber while the rubber was stretched. When the rubber relaxes, the sheets buckle around the core in two dimensions—along the length as well as the circumference. This buckling—a key element in the design—allows the material to retain its conductivity even when stretched. The team then created a sheath around the fiber using layers of rubber and carbon nanotubes, resulting in a stretchable capacitor that can be used to build artificial muscles able to manipulate objects.