Stairway to Heaven

Plus: Round Two at Cabell and Now Hear This

That potential has not gone unnoticed. In fact, at first glance it would seem that Carbon Designs is entering an already-crowded field. Dozens of companies are working to exploit the commercial potential of carbon nanotubes, including a Houston company founded by Smalley. Samsung and Mitsubishi are bringing nanotube-based electronics to market, and nanotubes can already be found as additives in high-priced hockey sticks and baseball bats. In fact, as of last month 293 nanotube-related patents had been issued by the U.S. patent office.

So what makes Carbon Designs different? Part of it is that Edwards will concentrate on making a super-high-strength material completely out of nanotubes. Most others are focused on either the nanotubes' conductive properties or on blending them with existing materials.

Carbon Designs' main advantage, however, is money. Often, research labs spend much of their time searching for funding. "You can go get $100,000 here, $150,000 there, to fund whatever it is you're working on, but it doesn't come in by the millions," Waller says. "Four million pure R&D dollars over 18 months is pretty concentrated money."

Physicist Brad Edwards
Physicist Brad Edwards

That money will go to two of the country's leading labs, one at Los Alamos and the other at the University of Kentucky, with Edwards shuttling back and forth. Within two years, Carbon Designs hopes to have its product available for use in everything from golf clubs to body armor.

While no one doubts the commercial value of nanotubes, some do question Edwards' timetable of 15 years for the space elevator. Ray Baughman of the Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas has done groundbreaking work with nanotubes, including producing threads that approach the strength of steel. Baughman says that even tripling the strength of steel would be "an enormous step forward." As for hitting Edwards' target of 30 times the strength of steel within two years, Baughman chuckles. "We can debate that," he says. "Certainly Brad is a visionary in terms of thinking not only of today but into the far future. I'm very, very happy that Carbon Designs is coming to Dallas."

Even elevator believers are cautious. "We haven't even asked all the questions yet, let alone provided all the answers," says Seattle entrepreneur Michael Laine. He formed a company with Edwards in Seattle to develop elevator technologies. Edwards left to work for a more established lab in 2003, but Laine's company, LiftPort Inc., still has a ticking 15-year countdown timer on its Web site. LiftPort's main focus is building the robot lifter that will climb into space, a task Laine summarizes like this: "Try building a car that's going to drive around the planet, about 20,000 miles, without refueling, without changing its tires and without stopping."

If anyone can solve the problem of the tether, however, Laine still believes it will be Edwards. "I can't think of a better guy than Brad," Laine says. In fact, Laine echoes Waller virtually word for word in describing Edwards: "He's the smartest guy I've ever known." --Rick Kennedy

Round 2 at Cabell
The president of Cabell Elementary's PTA says she'll remove her kids next year if the current principal, Marcell Archer, remains.

"My son says it's just a really depressing school," says Jodi Beltran, the PTA president. "The school is so divided."

Is it ever. On this side are Archer and her supporters, mostly teachers--a minority of teachers, some claim--who three weeks ago circulated a petition that said Archer was doing a fine job. On that side are other Cabell teachers and parents, who said Archer's not doing a fine job and told the Dallas Observer about it ("Sinner or Saint" April 21).

Beltran says she heard from teachers who say they were coerced into signing the petition, which circulated because of the Observer's inquiries about Archer "terrorizing the staff," as one Cabell teacher put it.

But it's more than this petition. "The children are not happy," Beltran says. She says the school's acrimony is a result of Archer's leadership style.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. Gwender Lias-Baskett is a language arts and social studies teacher at Cabell who decided to pass around the petition. "I'm not afraid to stand up and speak for what's right," she says. The Observer's previous article "grieved my spirit," Lias-Baskett says, with its "vindictiveness."

She says no teachers were coerced into signing the petition. How many signed it? "I don't think it's important," Lias-Baskett says. (Vickie Mitchell, the area superintendent overseeing Cabell, says eight teachers originally approached her asking to circulate a petition on campus.) What about the rumor that some parents were asked to sign? Lias-Baskett at first told us that some parents' names were on the list but that they weren't coerced. Days later, Lias-Baskett said no parents' names were on the list.

As for Archer herself, she doesn't want to talk. "I am not going to do this again," she says. "You better be very careful from here on out in dogging me," she says. --Paul Kix

Now Hear This
When she was but a year old, in 1976, Kimby Caplan was diagnosed as deaf. Her father recalls that upon receiving the news, he thought to himself, "We'd have to throw her away--she wasn't any good anymore." He jokes, of course; his daughter, now 30, likes to say it was her old man's sense of humor that kept the family together, just before it blew apart. But the image of a child (a baby doll, actually) being tossed into the garbage pail appears repeatedly in Caplan's just-completed documentary Listen, which chronicles her lifelong struggle to exist as a deaf person in a hearing world, without use of sign language.

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