Carbon fiber is an amazing material. It’s strong and extremely lightweight, but the technology has yet to be harnessed anywhere near the full capabilities that you can imagine. In the late 1800’s, steel made a major impact on the world, but it’s nowhere near the potential of what carbon nanotubes will potentially be able to provide.
Carbon nanotubes are made out of individual carbon atoms arranged in a hollow cylinder as small as one atom accross the surface and 50 atoms in diameter…much smaller than a human hair. The atoms are bonded with the strength of diamonds, but they have the flexibility of fiber. Right now, we only have the capability of growing short lengths of carbon nanotubes, but there are a tons of companies working on improving the technology.
Earlier, I mentioned that the technology possibilities are something most people can’t even imagine. Some of that technology could lead to unsmashable cars, buildings that cannot collapse, planes that are many times lighter than they are today, and even an elevator into space.
There is a really interesting show called “Visions of the Future” that did a little bit on carbon nanotubes. You can watch the bit here (Start at 2:45):