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Fullerenes are Long-Lasting

I am fascinated by the possibility of using fullerenes to build eternal structures. If not eternal, extremely long-lasting. Fullerenes already exist today. See?

Above are aggregated diamond nanorods (ADNRs). The name "hyperdiamond" recently appeared to describe this material.

ADNRs, a type of fullerene (any molecule made entirely out of carbon), is the hardest and least compressible known material. Its bulk modulus, meaning resistance to compression, is 491 gigapascals (GPa), beating diamond which is only about 445 GPa. For comparison, the bulk modulus of steel is 160 GPa, glass is 30 GPa, and bone is just 15 GPa.

What else? This black stuff:

Look how dark it is. Something made out of that would be hard to see at night. Also, its melting point would be several thousand degrees.

The image above shows one of the longest nanotube forests ever created. The nanotubes are about 8 mm long.

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  1. I would like to instantiate my brain on a computer made of these.

  2. “I am fascinated by the possibility of using fullerenes to build eternal structures.”

    This reminds me of a remark which stood out for me in Freeman Dyson’s “Time without end”:

    “If (ii) is correct, human-sized objects will disappear with the lifetime (52), but dust grains with diameter less than about 100 [micrometers], will last for ever.”

    For context, see the paragraphs after equation 54. (ii) refers to the possibility that the Planck mass is the minimum mass for a black hole (“m_B”). The idea is that anything with a mass greater than m_B has some finite possibility of becoming a black hole through a quantum fluctuation, which will this evaporate by emitting Hawking radiation. Dust grains with a mass less than the Planck mass are safe from such a fate – at least individually! The later stages of Dyson’s paper involve distributed thinking systems whose parts communicate electromagnetically in an expanding universe. I would have thought that, if they were capable of remaining in contact like that, there was always some finite probability that the parts themselves would drift into physical contact, an event which would be associated with a finite probability of spontaneous formation of a black hole.

    But I didn’t have any of those thoughts back when I first read the paper; I just remember thinking it intriguing and a little peculiar that a dust grain might provide an eternally stable object.

    It’s over 30 years since Dyson wrote his paper. I should be able to say something about how his ideas look from the perspective of contemporary theory… First of all, one issue that he touches on is the possibility of proton decay. If protons decay, then no atom is stable. Dyson’s riposte, a few years later, is that you could have gravitationally bound positron-electron systems, with the positrons and electrons in states corresponding to orbitals with very high quantum numbers (compare the notion of a “Rydberg atom”), and perhaps you could make an eternal reversible computer out of enormous positronium clouds in the perpetually expanding universe.

    Around the time that Dyson wrote his essay, the idea of proton decay had just come along – in the GUTs, grand unification theories – and theoretical confidence was high at the time that proton decay would soon be detected. It still hasn’t been, and in fact the GUTs were the beginning of our long march towards M theory, a string of theoretical developments which became more and more high-powered but which didn’t so far obtain experimental validation. Proton decay is a pretty ubiquitous feature of all such unified theories, because there’s always some probability for a quark to turn into an electron; though it may be possible to embed the standard model into string theory in a “non-unified” way (e.g. by having a different D-brane stack for each gauge group).

    Current cosmological ideas are more threatening to the idea of “life without end”. We certainly don’t believe in Tipler’s closed universe, and since 1998 and the discovery of dark energy, we think of the expansion as something that accelerates. The consequence of this is that it becomes impossible to have eternal extended structures; eventually the expansion tears them apart. I may be wrong about this; there may be some counterpart of Dyson’s “dust grain”, representing a small but finite-sized structure which can survive unperturbed in a de Sitter space Hubble volume indefinitely; at least, there may be a class of cosmological model which allows for this.

    In general, contemporary physics says you can “only” survive for a few billions or trillions of years. In fact, even a million-year lifespan for an intelligent being is wildly in doubt; that’s a hundred times the length of all recorded history; there is no evidence that any intelligent entity can bear to live so long, or maintain its affairs without fatal error over such a long period. But the final word regarding the physics is just that we still don’t have the final word. We have come incredibly far, and perhaps incredibly close to the final truth about how the universe works, but we aren’t there yet, and so for now, one may retain “hope” for the possibility of truly eternal structures.

  3. Fullerines mostly make me think of asbestos.

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