A discovery with applications in space and fashion

by Arash Azizzi

Arash Azizzi is a PhD Candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in  Biomedical Engineering.

Arash Azizzi is a PhD Candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in  Biomedical Engineering.

In late 19th century, when Thomas Edison was using this material in his experiments to invent his greatest invention, light bulb, I think he didn't even thought that one day that dirty material will be used in industries including aerospace, automotive, construction, sport, music and also fashion industry.

This article is about an amazing material, carbon fiber. In 1800, carbon strings were used in arc bulbs to light up some major U.S cities.

Later in 1879 the year that Edison used a stringe of carbon fiber to create the first incandescent light bulb. He made his carbon filament by cotton threads and bamboo slivers. However, later this material was replaced by tungsten filaments. Golden era of carbon fiber began in 1956 when Roger Bacon with PhD in physics discovered a new high performance type of carbon compound. Roger was working with Parma Technical Center laboratory which it was a type of university-style corporate labs and it was one of the major laboratories of Union Carbide’s. Researchers working at those laboratories had a high degree of autonomy in their research. Roger’s project was in melting of graphite under high pressure and temperature and his works leaded to discovering an amazing compound of carbon with high mechanical performance, called carbon fiber. 

Biggest supporter of Parma Technical Center laboratory’s research in developing a new generation of high performance material based on Bacon discovery was U.S. Air Force and they were interested in this material to use in rocket nozzles, missiles nose tip and aircraft structures. Although Bacon carbon fiber had a high tensile stress but its elasticity modulus was low and it took 9 years from Bacon discovery before that first high modulus fiber of carbon was invented.

This discovery opened a gate to a world of invention based on carbon fiber. Most prominent  characteristic of this materials is its low density, high strength, high conductivity and its color. This material is 5 time lighter than steel and its strength is as high as steel. Low density and high strength of this material convinced many industries including automotive, aerospace, sport, music, construction, medical and recently fashion industries to find a lot of applications for carbon fiber. Parts made of carbon fiber are so prevalent in modern automobiles, for example, Lamborghini has used this material to make Destination Elemento frame and be proud of high power to weight ratio of this beautiful car. Aerospace industry is another industry which has yielded to these two features of carbon fiber and from drones to airplanes we can find parts made of carbon fiber. Rock stars who like to smash their guitar need to make up their mind if the guitar in their hands has a carbon fiber frame. If you are going to  buy a ski board, skate or you like to buy a lightweight bicycle, do not hesitate to ask if it is made of carbon fiber and if it is, you can be sure that you are offered a high quality product.

This material is black and we should acknowledge that this color is one of the most popular colors in fashion industry. Nike is producing sport shoes made of carbon fiber and also carbon fiber textures are used in producing belts, wallets, watches and luxury items. Carbon fiber is non toxic and x-ray permeable and because of these characteristics it has opened its way into clinical applications and today CT overlays made of carbon fiber are available. Carbon fiber is conductive and it makes this material MRI incompatible and my project is highly related to MRI machines. But I can't ignore other amazing features of carbon fiber that makes it an exceptional material and it even has got its role in my PhD project.

Reference: American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmarks. High Performance Carbon