Full text of nanotechnologist James Tour’s talk titled ‘Jesus Christ & Nanotechnology’ at Texas A&M.
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James Tour – American chemist and nanotechnologist
Thank you for coming tonight. I’ve spoken at A&M several times before, never in the Veritas Forum, but I feel a close association to A&M, just being down the road at Rice. And I’ve spoken here many times in the chemistry department and in some of the collaborations that we’ve had going together as universities together as well.
And I’m going to share something that might be a little bit different for Veritas Forum because I’m not an apologist, I’m not a philosopher, I’m not a theologian. I’m a chemist and I love Jesus. And I’m going to tell you a little bit about how my relationship with Jesus Christ has influenced my career and how He’s just moved into my life and moved into my career as I’ve welcomed Him in.
I’m going to start by talking a little bit about several of the areas that we work in in nanotechnology. We work in this area, and I’ll just use this pointer so I can get both halves directed here, but we work in this area where we’ve worked a lot on space composites, and this in fact was a collaboration with Texas A&M for many years that Rice had. And we developed a NOx material, a material that can be used to heat up the resin that is used between space shuttle tiles.
And what that will do is we put carbon nanotubes in there and we can heat up this resin to a thousand degrees in just a few minutes and cause it to cure. Before that, there was no way to do space repair and get this to cure in flight. They said that they would hope that it would cure upon re-entry when it would heat up. And that was really the way that they were going to think about doing this.
We’ve got another area that we call laser-induced graphene, and this is a new area for us. And so we’ve done a lot with graphene, but here we can take something called polyimide. This is just inexpensive commercial plastic films. And we just take these films and we hit it with a laser, the same lasers that are used to write patterns, to cut out patterns in metal. You just turn down the power and as soon as it hits the polyimide film, it will turn into graphene.
Now, graphene is a very important material recently, and these are single atomic layers of graphite. So you have a single atomic layer, though, and we can get these graphene. I think this is going to be licensed very soon and turn over into a way to make commercial devices really inexpensively.
We have another area where we work with carbon nanotubes, and what we’ve done is we’ve taken carbon nanotubes, which are these long cylindrical structures, and we can intercalate compounds that will cause the tubes to split. It’s very much like when a water pipe splits because it’s frozen, it will always split longitudinally rather than horizontally. And it will split longitudinally because the pressures are relieved in that dimension. And when it does that, what you get is you get graphene nanoribbons. So this is a way to make graphene, but in a ribbon shape.
You say, well, who cares about that? Well, there’s a lot of people that care because it affects materials. So this, in fact, has been licensed by a chemical company and it’s being scaled right now. We use it in gas barrier composites. We use it for strengthening epoxies. We use it in other things.
So for example, one of the things we’ve applied it to is we can put this on glass and it will be transparent, but we can heat the glass electrically and melt ice off the glass. So I don’t know if we have the resolution to see it, but there’s water that’s dripping off this glass piece right now, and that’s in the minus 20 degrees C box. And that is dripping off even at minus 20 degrees C. And if you’ve ever lived in a cold environment, so Texas isn’t the place to really live for this, but if you’ve ever had to de-ice your window, you can de-ice the back window really rapidly because there’s little wires in there that you can resistively heat.
But you can’t de-ice the front window that rapidly because you have to wait for the car to warm up and get the blowers. But now we can begin to do that. And so you see now below this piece of glass is just a thermocouple taped to the back side of it. And so we can do de-icing now. So this is being transitioned for that application. And it’s also RF transparent.
The biggest building material that’s being used, if you look at any skyscraper, it’s not bricks and sticks and mortar. What you see is you see glass. Glass is the major building material. And what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to be able to de-fog, de-ice glass, but you also want it to be transparent to RF so that you can still use your cell phone inside that building, for example, which is really an important thing to be able to do.
So we can begin to do that now because these are RF transparent. These are also going on radome arrays. In fact, these radome arrays that are in Alaska is one of the first targets that we’re targeting. We work a lot on other types of graphene. This is a picture right here of a leg of a roach, a little cockroach, on top of a piece of copper. We heat that up to 1,000 degrees, and that roach leg turns into graphene, that single sheet material.
And the reason we did that to show that any carbon source at 1,000 degrees is going to go to the most thermodynamically stable form of carbon, which is graphene. We did this with Girl Scout cookies. If you buy a box of Girl Scout cookies for $4, a box of Girl Scout cookies, and if you take all of the carbon in those Girl Scout cookies in that one box and convert it to graphene, you would be able to sell that graphene as two centimeter squares, as it’s sold today, for a price of $15 billion.
And that shows that the price of a material is not an element, but a price of a material is in the arrangement of the atoms. That’s what gives it the cost. That’s what gives it the value.
And I’ll give you another example. Take a human being.
What is the value of a human being?
You want to put a price on a human being. And actually, actuators and insurance companies put a value on human beings. But if you take that person, and now the person dies, you cremate them, it turns into CO2 in water.
What is the value of that CO2 in water? Less than a penny.
What is the value of this amazing structure of a human being? And so it shows you that the value of something, just from a mechanical material standpoint, is in the arrangement of the atoms and not so much in the cost of the atoms itself.
You say, well, gold is more expensive than carbon. Yes, but that difference is in the noise compared to the value of something based on the structure.
We have other projects where we’re able to capture CO2 now from gas wells. So natural gas wells come up with CO2. That CO2 is vented to the air. We’ve made porous carbon materials over 3,000 meters squared per gram very easily now. We make this from asphalt. Yes, the material that’s used to coat roads, we heat that material up to 600 degrees in the presence of potassium hydroxide, and we form a porous material that traps CO2 in over 100 weight percent, and it’s reversible. It’s a pressure swing adsorption process. This has all been licensed by Apache Corporation, which is a very large oil company.
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