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"I've got this beautiful panoramic three-dimensional painting of Mars based on Martian photos. It's 30 feet wide. You can pick out every pebble on the Martian landscape. And who'd have dreamed you could do that?"
- Arthur C. Clarke

Sinclair Molecule Chain  
  A monofilament fiber, used for strength.  

Juno was invisible behind her when the fusion motors fired. Immediately the cable at her tail began to unroll. The cable was thirty miles long and was made of braided Sinclair molecule chain. Trailing at the end was a lead capsule as heavy as the ramrobot itself.
From A Gift From Earth, by Larry Niven.
Published by Del Rey in 1968
Additional resources -

Researchers are pretty close with this one. In November of 2006, NIST reported on carbon nanotube "cutlery" - a single carbon nanotube stretched between two tungsten needles.


(Scanning electron micrograph of a prototype 'nanoknife' )

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) have designed a carbon nanotube knife that, in theory, would work like a tight-wire cheese slicer. In a paper presented this month at the 2006 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition*, the research team announced a prototype nanoknife that could, in the future, become a tabletop tool of biology, allowing scientists to cut and study cells more precisely than they can today.

For years, biologists have wrestled with conventional diamond or glass knives, which cut frozen cell samples at a large angle, forcing the samples to bend and sometimes later crack. Because carbon nanotubes are extremely strong and slender in diameter, they make ideal materials for thinly cutting precise slivers of cells. In particular, scientists might use the nanoknife to make 3D images of cells and tissues for electron tomography, which requires samples less than 300 nanometers thick.

By manipulating carbon nanotubes inside scanning electron microscopes, 21st-century nanosmiths have begun crafting a suite of research tools, including nanotweezers, nanobearings and nano-oscillators. To design the nanoknife, the NIST and CU scientists welded a carbon nanotube between two electrochemically sharpened tungsten needles. In the resulting prototype, the nanotube stretches between two ends of a tungsten wire loop. The knife resembles a steel wire that cuts a block of cheese.

Thanks to an anonymous reader who reminded me about this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from A Gift From Earth
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven
  Tech news articles related to A Gift From Earth
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven

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