Carbon Nanotechnology in an 17th Century Damascus Sword

Posted on October 1, 2008  Comments (2)

Carbon nanotechnology in an 17th century Damascus sword

Wootz, with its especially high carbon content of about 1.5%, should have been useless for sword-making. Nonetheless, the resulting sabres showed a seemingly impossible combination of hardness and malleability.

Amazingly, they found that the steel contained carbon nanotubes, each one just slightly larger than half a nanometre. Ten million could fit side by side on the head of a thumbtack.

It isn’t clear how ancient blacksmiths produced these nanotubes, but the researchers believe that the key to this process lay with small traces of metals in the wootz including vanadium, chromium, manganese, cobalt and nickel. Alternating hot and cold phases during manufacture caused these impurities to segregate out into planes. From there, they would have acted as catalysts for the formation of the carbon nanotubes, which in turn would have promoted the formation of the cementite nanowires.

By gradually refining their blade-making skills, these blacksmiths of centuries past were using nanotechnology at least 400 years before it became the scientific buzzword of the twenty-first century.

Related: Manipulating Carbon NanotubesMIT Energy Storage Using Carbon NanotubesUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

2 Responses to “Carbon Nanotechnology in an 17th Century Damascus Sword”

  1. Blake Nagel
    October 30th, 2008 @ 11:44 pm

    It is my first visit here on your blog and I was attracted by the heading nano technology. I recently finished a real good crime novel that was all centered around this topic and wondered how much people knew about it. I admit, I never even heard of nano technology before reading that book but it has made me open my eyes to things unimaginable. To be honest though, even if they used it 400 years ago I’m still confused what it all entails.

  2. Joe
    April 2nd, 2009 @ 12:14 am

    This is facinating find. Sheds light on how advanced ancient civilizations were. Usually when I think of civilizations that date 400 B.C. I think of peasants living in huts and farming and not skilled blacksmiths that can make swords with carbon nano tubes.

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