Nanotechnology has to be one of the most exciting things happening in science today. Almost every day, new developments in the field are announced, and so many of them are likely to prove very useful. Who woulda thunk that something so small could produce such big innovations?
One example is the recent announcement from MIT that a team of researchers from their Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics have developed a way to identify cracks inside composite materials. As composite materials become more common in the construction of everything from aircraft to bridges to wind-turbine blades, it is becoming ever more of an imperative to be able to locate these internal cracks. This is because composite materials don't necessarily show damage on the surface, like traditional metals do.
A common method for locating these cracks until now, has been to use infrared thermography (heat-sensitive cameras) to detect where heat is being redirected. This is cumbersome (and no-doubt uncomfortable), because it requires the use of large heaters.
The MIT team's ingenious solution is to build the detection mechanism into the material. They have incorporated electrically conductive aligned carbon nanotubes into the design of the composite material, so that when a small electric current is applied to it, any areas of increased resistance indicate signs of potential damage. All the investigator needs to do, is to wear a pair of thermographic goggles, or use a thermographic camera, and any signs of greater heat provide evidence of damage to the nanotubes, and thus the actual structure.
Voila! Your airplane can be repaired, and the safety crew don't have to sweat it.
And you can continue to safely enjoy the benefits of the ever-advancing developments in composite materials: