Damascus Blades contained carbon nanotubes!
Damascus Blades are legendary in both the history of weaponry and metallurgy. These blades were not only significantly stronger, sharper, and more flexible than any steel in blades at the time, and even now, but were aesthetically fascinating, the forming process created beautiful wood grain like patterns in the steel. Stories from the middle ages suggested that a Damascus blade could slice straight through a regular steel 2” mace ball head without a nick. Like Japanese sword making, the process for making Damascus blades were rigorous and refined over the course of centuries. The ceremonies for making them were so precise that they became essentially religious practices. One of my material books tells a horrifying part of forming a Damascus sword which required quenching the red hot blade with the blood of a living slave. First they were stabbed through ‘the fleshy part of the thigh, then through the other leg’s thigh, and then through the gut’. Ouch.
Whether or not this was part of the actual process, large scale manufacturing today still can not match the quality of these hand crafted blades of antiquity. Damascus blades helped lead the Muslim’s to victory thought he crusades, but hundreds of years ago the delicate and specific recipe for creating them was lost. It was only a mere 10 years ago that modern metallurgists were able to replicate in a lab the quality of Damascus steel. Though pattern welding has been around for a while, it only replicated the look of the blades and not their incredible structural superiority.
This interesting news reported in the New York Times science column http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/28/science/28observ.html?_r=1&oref=slogin shows that some researchers in Germany, after analyzing true Damascus blades, found they contained carbon nanotubes! Nanotubes were not even identified until the late 1980’s, these tubes are made of sphere of carbon molecules, forming a pattern of interlocking pentagons and hexagons, and then with extra rings added in the middle.
Their manufacture is expensive and complex, the longest tubes to date are around 10 cm, but these fascinating carbon tubes represent the strongest material known to man, over 100 times stronger than steel. A macroscopic length of these tubes, formed into a rope, could be invisible to the naked eye yet support well over a ton of weight. Such levels of strength are still conceptually alien to us. Amazingly, the complex and delicate process used to create Damascus blades caused carbon nanotubes to form within these blades, obviously a major contributor to the strength, flexibility, and sharpness of those blades. Damascus Steel, if it could reproduced and then mass produced would be to steel what steel was to wrought iron. Rearden Metal anyone?
Great Scientific American article on Damascus http://www.mines.edu/Academic/met/pe/faculty/eberhart/classes/down_loads/damascus.pdf
Damascus Steel images http://images.google.com/images?svnum=10&hl=en&lr=&q=damascus+steel
Wikiepedia entry on Damascus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damascus_steel
Inventors make the biggest difference in the world.
Every year hundreds of millions of people die from drinking contaminated water. Technologies for cleaning and purifying water are relatively expensive, complex, and require electricity, forbidding their use in most of these countries. Global altruists push for building massive industrial infrastructure to get clean water to these people, but usually end up just funneling money into the corrupt people who are responsible for the cultural and technological stagnation of these areas in the first place. Their do-good efforts often cause more harm than good. Enter the independent, motivated, intelligent inventor. All the great advances of humanity, the things that have truly alleviated the cause of suffering, as opposed to providing only palliative care, have come not from selfless altruists trying to feel good about their contributions to the world, but from motivated intelligent optimistic people conquering nature through the use of technology and their intransigent minds. The Lifestraw is one such simple, elegant, and beautiful device. This inexpensive straw provides clean safe drinking water for up to 1 year for 1 person per straw. Manufactured at a cost of ~$2 USD, these devices could save hundreds of millions of lives per year, and do far more good for the people of the world than all the concerts, special promotions, and celebrity public service announcements combined.
Lifestraw manufacturer http://www.lifestraw.com/en/low/low.asp
GizMag article on the LifeStraw http://www.gizmag.com/go/4418/1/
Some other interesting things…
Largest Superconductor ever built http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/06/sci_nat_enl_1164360921/html/1.stm
Slow motion of Bunker Buster bomb penetrating reinforced hanger and destroying the aircraft inside http://www.infectiousvideos.com/index.php?p=showvid&a=playvid&sid=3402&cr=hotplay
Test firing video of a phalanx http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4897647549985392214