An image (from Wikipedia) showing the diameter of a human hair (grayish in background) compared with that of a carbon fiber filament running above it (black).
Carbon fiber—sound familiar to you? I thought so. But do you really know ANYTHING about it? Probably not as much as you should, for as often as we’ve overheard a report about it over the years in the “technological breakthroughs” section of the nightly news, being implemented into some new equipment at NASA or in the military. And do you know when (if at all) you actually get to use it in your daily routine? So why, if carbon fiber is so “innovative” enough as to keep popping up in our everyday news as some “miracle material,” does this mystic never seem to rise above its own hype, and finally make its mark in our everyday lives? (And I mean us “normal” people… you know, non-astronaut, non-fighter pilot folk)
Carbon fiber is a material made up of thousands of small strands, or filaments, which are tightly woven together into a fabric, just like the shirt on your back is woven with threads of cotton. There are two major differences, though. One, the “threads” used in carbon fiber are made of, well, carbon… which, as you can imagine, has quite a bit more brawn than cotton (diamonds are also made of carbon, just to give you an idea). Two, each strand of carbon is only about 5 micrometers in diameter (like the one in the image above), whereas cotton fibers are typically up to 20 micrometers in diameter… just a little “fatter” than a human hair. The result is a material with extreme strength and rigidity. So if we can make fabrics (yes, fabrics) that are stronger than even the strongest metals we dig up out of the ground, and which are made up of one of the most abundant elements on earth, how come we don’t see this technology more often in our daily lives? I’ll bet you guessed the BIG reason ($$$). But are there any real reasons as to why we don’t see carbon fiber enter our mainstream lifestyles, and live up to the hype it has been building for quite some time now? I mean PCs were expensive technology (and even unnecessary, believe it or not) at one time, too, but we all know what happened with that one.