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Ancient Swords Made of Carbon Nanotubes 293

brian0918 writes "Nature reports that researchers at Dresden University believe that sabres from Damascus dating back to 900 AD were formed with help from carbon nanotubes. From the article: 'Sabres from Damascus are made from a type of steel called wootz. But the secret of the swords' manufacture was lost in the eighteenth century.' At high temperatures, impurities in the metal 'could have catalyzed the growth of nanotubes from carbon in the burning wood and leaves used to make the wootz, Paufler suggests. These tubes could then have filled with cementite to produce the wires in the patterned blades, he says.'"
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Ancient Swords Made of Carbon Nanotubes

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  • Katana comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ekhymosis ( 949557 ) on Thursday November 16, 2006 @09:27PM (#16879028) Homepage
    Since the secret of manufacturing was lost in the 18th century, it would make sense that they were still made during 1500-1600. How would their properties in manufacturing compare to the folding method of the Japanese katana? Would the nanotubes be present in the katana as well, or was this unique to Damascus?
  • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Thursday November 16, 2006 @09:28PM (#16879038) Homepage Journal
    Actually, even this article seems a bit strange to me- I always thought Damascus Steel required the sacrifice of a young male slave with proper supplication to the gods to temper the steel (the blood of the slave provided the carbon for the nano tubes) while this seems to be a different process.
  • Re:Wootz? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Feyr ( 449684 ) on Thursday November 16, 2006 @09:31PM (#16879068) Journal
    it might not be "wrong" to say it was lost, but it's not entirely right either. i remember a few years ago some engineer had replicated the process and was trying to streamline it for commercial production (it required something like 10 highly involved and time consuming steps).

    wish i could find that article now
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 16, 2006 @10:04PM (#16879300)
    A modern blade that would be considered unremarkable would be very good by most ancient standards. There are ancient Chinese stories of knives that were able to split iron rods that were being used as weapons. If I swing a steel bar at you and you split it with a knife, your knife may be good but my iron bar must be pretty bad. In fact, by most ancient standards a piece of rebar would be considered pretty formidable.

    The other telling thing is that the Muslim warriors were dismayed by the protection provided by European armor. A Damascus blade might be amazingly effective against silk handkerchiefs and human flesh but not so much against other pieces of metal.
  • Stephenson (Score:4, Interesting)

    by radarsat1 ( 786772 ) on Thursday November 16, 2006 @10:09PM (#16879344) Homepage
    Neal Stephenson mentions this in the Baroque Cycle. He talks about how the little eggs of steel were forged in India and hammered out to make watered steel, then sold to the asian market. I assume he is talking about the same thing? I believe he even used the word "wootz", but I can't recall.
  • by the Gray Mouser ( 1013773 ) on Thursday November 16, 2006 @10:11PM (#16879354)
    By these guys [ntsource.com]?

    Or has their worked been made suspect or not confirmed?
  • Re:Katana comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bladesjester ( 774793 ) <slashdot AT jameshollingshead DOT com> on Thursday November 16, 2006 @10:35PM (#16879536) Homepage Journal
    From the photo, it does indeed look like the metal in the blade has been folded (damasced). That may or may not be the answer he's looking for. I can say that, from the up close shot, the patterning is pretty.

    My master would be a better judge than I am. He's also a swordsman. One of us is better at blacksmithing (He did it professionally for quite some time and used to teach at a school) and the other is generally a better swordsman (though he'd say that was him, we both know better).

    I started learning to work steel because I wanted to make my own weapons (I've trained martially since I was about 6 and got my first sword at 10). Unfortunately, things happened which caused me to stop that pursuit for the moment.

    While I was there, I got to use a type of forge setup which is basically only found in a few places in the world and got to meet a lot of interesting people including a master gunsmith whose work is in the Smithsonian. It was a real trip.
  • Cutting a sword (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jamie ( 78724 ) * <jamie@slashdot.org> on Thursday November 16, 2006 @10:54PM (#16879682) Journal
    Maybe it's time for MythBusters to RE-revisit cutting a sword with a sword [televizzle.org]...
  • Hard to believe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by newt0311 ( 973957 ) on Thursday November 16, 2006 @11:32PM (#16879924)
    I find it hard to believe that a normal furnace is hot enough to produce carbon nanotubes. Currently CNTs have to be manufactured using plasma torches. in a normal furnace, there will be too many defects in the CNTs for them to be of any use.
  • Re:informative (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:22AM (#16880246) Journal
    simple - the slashdot mod system is broken, funny posts get no positive karma.
    That's not a bug, it's a feature.

    As the Slashdot Faq says: Note that being moderated Funny doesn't help your karma. You have to be smart, not just a smart-ass.

    Thus, kind moderators will often mod a funny post as informative or insightful, so that the poster gets the karma.
    If you want to give someone Karma and the post doesn't fit into the Insightful or Interesting category, use +1 Underrated.
  • Mercury Ali (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:28AM (#16880296)
    Wootz, Damascus or Watered Steel was made famous (well, to those who didn't already know anyway) in Burton's Arabian Nights by the following passage:
    "Watered steel-blade, the world perfection calls,
    Drunk with
    the viper poison foes appals,
    Cuts lively, burns the blood whene'er it falls;
    And picks up
    gems from pave of marble halls;"
  • Re:Stephenson (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:37AM (#16880362)
    I just read that like 2 days ago. He described it just like this, and used wootz.
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Friday November 17, 2006 @01:38AM (#16880664) Homepage Journal
    I'm reminded of a documentary film on steelmaking, made ca. 1970. One of the points covered was that the human eye was more capable of determining temperature of the molten steel than were any then-available instruments. I vaguely recall that the human eye had proved accurate to within 3 or 4 degrees.

    No doubt any competent blacksmith learned to be equally accurate.

  • Re:Katana comparison (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nacturation ( 646836 ) <nacturationNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday November 17, 2006 @01:57AM (#16880756) Journal
    This reminds me of the Machine Gun vs. Katana [youtube.com] video. Be sure to watch past the 1 minute mark where it goes slow-motion, round by round of each impact including some rounds that were split in half by the katana edge.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 17, 2006 @03:09AM (#16881066)

    So, from what I understand, we already know how to recreate the original style of Damascus steel aka wootz.

    We indeed do. Some goldsmiths can make rings out of Damascus steel. The rings look pretty neat and they are superstrong. You can get different kind of patterns to the rings too.

    I heard a story where a man had something really heavy drop on his fingers at work. It would've been the end of that hand, but... he had a ring of Damascus steel on some finger (I'd say the biggest finger, but can't remember details), the ring didn't deform and kept the weight well. The guy ended up keeping his fingers intact.

  • Re:interesting... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by el_womble ( 779715 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @03:49AM (#16881182) Homepage
    Lost technologies always make me think of patents. If the blacksmith at the time had patented his technique (not that it was an option), we would probably still have it today.

    I just get the feeling that this amazing skill would have been a guarded secret, probably held by people who couldn't write effectively (if they understoof the chemistry at all, or weather it would have just been a recipe) and passed down through an apprentice. Which was all very well and good until there was a little too much competition and Wootz guys monopoly was under threat or he was killed before he could pass on his secret.

    No all patents are bad - just software ones.
  • Re:wootz? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FirienFirien ( 857374 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @07:06AM (#16881858) Homepage
  • Re:interesting... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Saint Fnordius ( 456567 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @07:44AM (#16881984) Homepage Journal
    Trade secrets back then were also military secrets: better steel meant a more effective army. Guilds were careful not to let the secrets fall into the "wrong hands". Even things like the secret of making superior glass and mirrors was highly guarded, as the health of the city depended on it. Venice was famous for its especially draconic punishments it inflicted upon glass masters that were suspected of tradig off its secrets.

    This is one of the two schools of information, the "you're not cleared for that" thought that information was a powerful weapon. The other is the "spread the word" thought that information must be shared so that the community could benefit and that the information couldn't be lost. Sometimes it's better to play with your cards close to your chest, and other times it's better to play with open cards so that everybody can profit.

    One of the purposes of patents was to counter the need for trade secrets, to ensure compensation for the inventor so that he would reveal his invention to the general public. The spirit was that anybody could build make the invention as long as they paid the inventor a fee.

    Copyright is another animal entirely. If copyright had said that anybody could copy if they compensated the author/artist, and not had such long lock-in times, I think we wouldn't be having these battles with music and film comglomerates.
  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @08:23AM (#16882202)
    Come on now - the technique was never lost - we just have easier ways of getting the same results now. The same sort of technique was done on a relatively large scale for small artillery peices in Japan as late as 1905 - but it is a lot of hard work when we can get similar results just with the right heat treatment and a bit of forging. First year enginnering students get told in general terms how to make damascus steel and the materials science students get a bit more detail later on.
  • by LoyalOpposition ( 168041 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @08:48AM (#16882388)
    I think Verhoeven got it right. Read all about it at http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9809/Verhoeve n-9809.html [tms.org].
  • Re:interesting... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 17, 2006 @11:45AM (#16884652)
    Anyone here who hasn't seen the movie "Highlander" with Christopher Lambert.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103442/ [imdb.com]
    An ancient 747 was discovered in 1992 predating modern flight a thousand years before the Wright Brothers ever flew.
    If you fold metal several thousand times by heating it to the point where it's flexible then striking and folding it with a hammer you create carbon nanotubes.
    Japanese master sword maker takes a year and half a dozen assistants to create a sword that cuts through a Talamanca Damascus blade like a tongue depressor slices through room temperature butter. News at 11!
  • Ren Faires (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Avatar8 ( 748465 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @11:52AM (#16884796)
    All I can say is that the scientists should get out more. Daniel Watson of www.angelsword.com has been making "technowootz" swords for years. Angel Sword visits numerous large Renaissance Faires around the country. I own two blades of his, and I can assure you, they're the strongest material I'll likely ever see in my lifetime.

    I think the only news here is that "scientists apply the term 'nanotubes' to an ancient process that was rediscovered several decades ago."

    I got a kick out of Daniel as I asked about the no-breakage/replacement guarantee.

    Me: So if Bubba Redneck ticks me off, I hack into his truck's engine block and the blade breaks, you'll replace it?
    Daniel: I doubt it would break, but if it does, yeah, we'll replace it.

    I guess it's comforting that science and the media confirms something we Ren Faire geeks have known for years: ancient science is better, and modern science is only rediscovering what has been lost.

  • Clichés Market (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PateraSilk ( 668445 ) <tedol@NoSpam.isostandardstudio.com> on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:45PM (#16885746) Homepage
    Maybe we should have a clichés market where we can invest mod points in our favorites and reap the rewards. We can put the ticker below the Slashdot Poll.
  • Correction. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @02:03PM (#16887198)
    Just an aside, as someone with a little history in metallurgy:
    My own experience is empirical, as you might guess from my username. I know a fair number of smiths of various kinds. I have a small forge and foundry myself, though I haven't got a trip-hammer so I don't attempt pattern-welding.

    Pattern-Welded is actually a weaker sum of the metals that went into it's production.
    False. I have been present personally during demonstrations which included creating and testing pattern-welded blades. Comparisons were made to similarly forged and tempered billets and the layered metal took more force to deform and more force to break. You can overforge the steel, you can thin out the layers too much, you can get large or non-carboniferous inclusions, all of which will result in a flawed or brittle blade, but properly forged pattern-welded steel is stronger and stiffer than plain hammered metal of the same type. This is presumably because of the carbon structures that are created during the welding and hammering out; most smiths will need to use a coal fire rather than a gas forge (I've heard that super-duper experts can pattern-weld with gas and carbon-loaded fluxes, but I've never seen anyone do it successfully).

    You are overhyping Japanese swordcraft at bit, also - certainly Japanese blades and bladesmiths deserve their reputation, but there's nothing magical about their particular form of pattern-welding, and for a big European-type like me a Viking pattern-welded blade might be more useful and appropriate. The Norse cable-welded core does not create the weak flanks that characterize the japanese method; Miyamoto Musashi was famous for smashing katanas with a wooden sword, but he wouldn't have been able to do it to a Viking longsword.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling