Scientists have unveiled a revolutionary carbon nanotube (CNT) fibre that looks and acts like a cotton thread and conducts electricity and heat like a metal wire. Researchers achieved a breakthrough, capping 10 years of efforts that make threadlike fibres possible, beating high-performance materials in a number of ways.

“We finally have a nanotube fibre with properties that do not exist in any other material. It looks like black cotton thread, but behaves like both metal wires and strong carbon fibers,” said Matteo Pasquali, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry at Rice University, Houston, Texas, who led the research, the journal Science reports.

Pasquali’s team included academic, government and industrial scientists from Rice, besides team members from Teijin Aramid, headquartered in Arnhem, the Netherlands; the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel; and the Air Force Research Lab in Ohio, according to a Rice statement.

“The new CNT fibres have a thermal conductivity approaching that of the best graphite fibres but with 10 times greater electrical conductivity,” said study co-author Marcin Otto, business development manager at Teijin Aramid.

“Graphite fibres are also brittle, while the new CNT fibres are as flexible and tough as a textile thread. We expect this combination of properties will lead to new products with unique capabilities for the aerospace, automotive, medical and smart—clothing markets,” Otto said.The phenomenal properties of carbon nanotubes have enthralled scientists from the moment of their discovery in 1991. The hollow tubes of pure carbon, which are nearly as wide as a strand of DNA, are about 100 times stronger than steel at one-sixth the weight.