Back in 2010, it was becoming clear that Formula 1 auto racing was taking note of nanotechnologies--ranging from nanomaterials to microscopy--but the variety of nanotechnologies that were actually finding their way into the cars still seemed pretty limited. Nanotech seemed destined, though, to play an even bigger role.
While to some people Formula 1 may conjure up Monte Carlo and the Jet-Set lifestyle, in fact it's populated with material scientists and engineers and more than its fair share of microscopy tools. In terms of advanced technologies, Formula 1 is really in a class by itself compared to other motoring sports.
Despite technology playing such a key in Formula 1 cars, the teams and cars need to abide by an ever-evolving list of rules that govern what technology can and can't be used. So, before anyone can jump ahead and start adopting the latest methods for reinforcing composites with carbon nanotubes, they’ll have to do some digging into F1 regulations.
Cientifica and the Motorsport Industry Association have launched a new website that looks at the issue of nanotechnology in motor sports. One of the first pieces put up on its website raises the issue of whether nanotech in Formula 1 is even legal.
In the interest of full disclosure, I do work for Cientifica, but I have not been involved in this particular project. So when the article poses the question of why the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA, the governing body of Formula 1) has turned its attention back to nanofiber composites, it’s the first time I’ve heard the question posed. And I think the answer may very well be the news I covered last year in which Applied NanoStructured Solutions LLC (ANS, Baltimore, Md.), a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, and Owens Corning (Toledo, Ohio) have developed a way to use carbon nanotubes in composites that actually strengthens and lightens the material.
I think with the Lockheed Martin/Owens Corning development carbon nanotubes are no longer just a very expensive resin filler that makes for good marketing copy, but something that can change the strength-to-weight ratio of composites to the point where FIA has to take notice.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.