The University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) is pioneering research into developing the strongest silica nanofibers in the world.
Globally the quest has been on to find ultrahigh strength composites, leading ORC scientists to investigate light, ultrahigh strength nanowires that are not compromised by defects. Historically, carbon nanotubes were the strongest material available, but high strengths could only be measured in very short samples just a few microns long, providing little practical value.
Now research by ORC Principal Research Fellow Dr Gilberto Brambilla and ORC Director Professor Sir David Payne has resulted in the creation of the strongest, lightest weight silica nanofibers - 'nanowires' that are 15 times stronger than steel and can be manufactured in lengths potentially of 1000's of kilometers.
Their findings are already generating extensive interest from many companies around the world and could be set to transform the aviation, marine and safety industries. Tests are currently being carried out globally into the potential future applications for the nanowires.
Professor Payne explains: "Weight for weight, silica nanowires are 15 times stronger than high strength steel and 10 times stronger than conventional GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic). We can decrease the amount of material used thereby reducing the weight of the object.
"Silica and oxygen, required to produce nanowires, are the two most common elements on the earth's crust, making it sustainable and cheap to exploit. Furthermore, we can produce silica nanofibers by the tonne, just as we currently do for the optical fibers that power the internet."