What HK minds can achieve with support
As computers become more powerful, their micro-electronic circuits are becoming ever tinier and more sophisticated.
Experts predict that technology for shrinking electricity circuits will render silicon chips obsolete within 10 years.
Across the world, the race is on to find an alternative material to meet the ever-growing demands of the micro-electronics industry.
Scientists are scouring a Lilliputian landscape of atoms and molecules and the hot ticket for replacing silicon is carbon materials.
The materials are made of carbon nano-tubes, fabricated at the molecular level, capable of carrying an electrical current.
The smallest carbon nano-tubes in the world - just 0.4 of a billionth of a metre wide - were pioneered by researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2001.
Professor Sheng Ping and his award-winning team at the Institute for Nano Science and Technology made the breakthrough using a new approach with the mineral zeolite.
'Imagine a lotus root shrunk by a million times,' he said. 'The zeolite template is a molecular-scale, porous material that has holes like a lotus root. In the holes, we grow carbon nano-tubes.
'We discovered that carbon nano-tubes in a zeolite template have superconductive behaviour and we have subsequently discovered that this kind of compound can absorb huge amounts of lithium.'
The team is now exploring the properties of their ideal hi-tech conductor, while possible applications of it and other nano-innovations are under trial at another HKUST research and development centre.
Researchers at the Institute of Nano Materials and Nano Technology have already verified that carbon nano-tubes can enhance the storage capacity of lithium batteries commonly used in personal computers.
Other trials under way include building transistors out of carbon nano-tubes and developing wrinkle-free nano-textiles.