Can the Microscopic Help Build the Colossal?

04/13/2012 08:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2012

There have been many advances in science in the past few decades, but the most influential is without a doubt the discovery of the atom and the atomic level. What this means is that we have discovered not only what makes certain substances more explosive, or strong, or light, etc., but we have also learned what about them makes them more of a certain trait. We have learned about the actual science behind atoms and how they act with each other.

People have always observed things to be different from each other, such as metals in terms of strength and weight. People also learned that mixing two substances could create a new substance, but we couldn't figure out why. A perfect example is bronze. A perfect mixture of 80 percent copper (Cu, 29) and 20 percent tin (Sn, 50), will create a new metal that is strong enough to stop a sword. With this finding, a new age was created: the Bronze Age. If someone were to put too much tin in bronze, an event like the crack of the Liberty Bell would occur. The tin makes the metal softer, and causing it to be too malleable.

Even though there are so many new discoveries of metals and other substances, our curiosity in space is only growing to see if there are any new atoms that we can add to the periodic table. Space shuttle launches are very expensive and there is always the possibility of a disaster. The most reasonable way to get certain necessities into space is the fabled space elevator. The only trouble is that we need a metal alloy to be able to fight the gravity of Earth without breaking, and it happens to be in you and me and everything else in and on the Earth. I am talking about carbon (C, 6). What makes carbon such a magical element is the fact that it only weighs 12.0107 AMU and it can bond four times, meaning that it can work well with other elements. The reason diamonds are so tough and hard to break is because they are layers upon layers of carbon atoms stacked on each other and are bonded four times with each other.

Now how does this help with the space elevator? Carbon can be made into a shape that a hammer cannot break. If you turn a layer of stacked carbon atoms and make them into a tube shape, you get carbon-nanotubes that can be the cables in the elevator that can hold cargo and withstand Earth's gravity.

Obviously, it is not that easy. To make the elevator not break and wrap itself around Earth, one would need a counter-weight that would be a space station. Even still, it is very risky, but if we could make an elevator to space, we would be using a less wasteful and less dangerous way to explore the stars.