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This 5-minute video adapted from NOVA scienceNOW explores the potential of carbon nanotubes, whose strength and unique properties make them useful for a variety of applications. See animations of how carbon atoms bond to one another in different ways to make diamond, graphite, buckyballs, and nanotubes. Consider how a seemingly impossible application, such as an elevator from the surface of Earth to space, is now theoretically possible given this revolutionary new building material. Hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Editor's Note: Carbon nanotubes are members of the fullerene structural family, which includes buckyballs. They are the strongest material yet discovered in terms of tensile strength, though product development is still in its infancy. The potential applications for carbon nanotubes are impressive, especially in fibers, electrical circuits, optics, and medicine. This resource includes background information for teachers and suggested discussion questions.

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© 2006 WGBH Educational Foundation
carbon molecules, fullerenes, materials science, molecular structure, nanomaterials, nanoscale science, nanotechnology
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Metadata instance created August 19, 2011 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
September 30, 2012 by Caroline Hall
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when Cataloged:
May 30, 2011
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Short but exciting

Author: Mary Salit
Posted: October 5, 2012 at 7:40AM
Source: The Physics Front collection

Though this brief video about the possibility of a space elevator, and the real science of carbon nanotubes, is too short to go into much detail about either subject, the ideas that it does explore are clearly stated, and the video is well produced. It includes great images of the formation of carbon nano-tubes on a silicon host wafer, and the pulling process that can form them into a ribbon. And the space elevator imagery is beautiful, and represents the kind of big idea that might really get kids excited about science.

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AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 6-8: 4D/M1cd. Atoms may link together in well-defined molecules, or may be packed together in crystal patterns. Different arrangements of atoms into groups compose all substances and determine the characteristic properties of substances.
  • 6-8: 4D/M6c. Carbon and hydrogen are common elements of living matter.
  • 6-8: 4D/M11. Substances react chemically in characteristic ways with other substances to form new substances with different characteristic properties.
  • 9-12: 4D/H7a. Atoms often join with one another in various combinations in distinct molecules or in repeating three-dimensional crystal patterns.
  • 9-12: 4D/H8. The configuration of atoms in a molecule determines the molecule's properties. Shapes are particularly important in how large molecules interact with others.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 6-8: 8B/M3. Advances in manufacturing processes can reduce costs and improve products.
  • 6-8: 8B/M5. Efforts to find replacements for existing materials are driven by an interest in finding materials that are cheaper to obtain or produce or that have more desirable properties.
  • 9-12: 8B/H4. Increased knowledge of the properties of particular molecular structures helps in the design and synthesis of new materials for special purposes.
  • 9-12: 8B/H6. Groups of atoms and molecules can form structures that can be measured in billionths of a meter. The properties of structures at this scale (known as the nanoscale) and materials composed of such structures, can be very different than the properties at the macroscopic scale because of the increase in the ratio of surface area to volume and changes in the relative strengths of different forces at different scales. Increased knowledge of the properties of materials at the nanoscale provides a basis for the development of new materials and new uses of existing materials.
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AIP Format
(WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2006), WWW Document, (
NOVA: A Nanotube Space Elevator, (WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2006), <>.
APA Format
NOVA: A Nanotube Space Elevator. (2011, May 30). Retrieved October 21, 2018, from WGBH Educational Foundation:
Chicago Format
The Hewlett Foundation. NOVA: A Nanotube Space Elevator. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, May 30, 2011. (accessed 21 October 2018).
MLA Format
NOVA: A Nanotube Space Elevator. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2006. 30 May 2011. The Hewlett Foundation. 21 Oct. 2018 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {NOVA: A Nanotube Space Elevator}, Publisher = {WGBH Educational Foundation}, Volume = {2018}, Number = {21 October 2018}, Month = {May 30, 2011}, Year = {2006} }
Refer Export Format

%T NOVA: A Nanotube Space Elevator
%D May 30, 2011
%I WGBH Educational Foundation
%C Boston
%O application/flash

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%0 Electronic Source
%D May 30, 2011
%T NOVA: A Nanotube Space Elevator
%I WGBH Educational Foundation
%V 2018
%N 21 October 2018
%8 May 30, 2011
%9 application/flash

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