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Forget the Nanotubes

I have to admit, I'm one of those people who are suckers for cool-sounding technology. For instance, carbon nanotubes. I have some serious nanotube envy. These strong, lightweight structures have been hyped for years as the building block of the future, providing us everything from space elevator cables and ultra-light bike frames (my fave) to entirely new classes of electronics that would conduct electricity with very little resistance, and with properties that only physics professors or very interested parties can hope to understand.

Alas, producing nanotubes with consistent size and properties, not to mention integrating them into mass transistor-building processes, hasn't been easy. Now it might not be necessary at all. (There's a nifty discussion at this cool blog of why the mainstream press doesn't seem to care.)

Walt de Heer, a Georgia Tech researcher responsible for a lot of past work on nanotubes, believes he's got a better way to build electronic components with the graphene that, in rolled-up form, creates a nanotube. He's used familiar lithography processes to lay out a transistor with thin ribbons of graphene and hopes the process will someday lead to a much sought-after "ballistic" transistor, but in a form that's easier to produce.

As I've said in the past, investors tend to look for some tiny company at the forefront of such technology, but that's not always the right bet. Often, the winners in the future tech race are the big dogs who can afford the R&D. In fact, de Heer's research has been supported by Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , as well as the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The researchers admit we're at the beginning of a long road; whether it heads to somewhere important is still anyone's guess. Will companies like AMD (NYSE: AMD  ) , Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN  ) , Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) , Freescale (NYSE: FSL  ) , and STMicroelectronics (NYSE: STM  ) someday find themselves designing and producing chips with nanoscale carbon components and quantum leaps in performance? Will we be freed from frying our CPUs during those Doom marathons? Perhaps.

Are there any other opportunities for investors to get in on the action? Not yet, it seems. But hey, you could always get a jump on things and start shorting the folks who make CPU-cooling fans.

If anyone comes up with a way to profit on the new wave in nanoelectronics, you might hear about it ahead of the herd atMotley Fool Rule Breakers. David Gardner and his newsletter team are always looking for tomorrow's trends today. See for yourself with a free trial.

Seth Jayson asks that researchers turn their attention to the important work of creating better nanotube composites for his light-bike lust. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.

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