Don’t try this at home, kids - well, actually...


The term “cottage industry” usually evokes images of rural workers spinning textiles or hip urban geeks building Web sites in their loft apartments. But manufacturing carbon nanotubes? Not quite.

That is, until now. A chemistry professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, recently suggested that nanotube manufacturing should be promoted as a cottage industry for educated but unemployed people.

The suggestion might elicit a chuckle were it not for the fact that the professor recently published a method for homemade tubes in an academic journal. The method is one familiar to legions of Indians: It is traditionally used for making kaajal, a form of classical Indian makeup applied as eyeliner and as a medication to treat eye ailments.

The making of kaajal is so old that it is even mentioned in ancient Hindu texts like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, according to the paper, authored by chemist Sabyasachi Sarkar and four graduate students. The group found that carbon nanotubes are present within ordinary kaajal. In the paper, they take it a step further and describe how to burn mustard oil to generate soot that can then be purified to yield carbon nanotubes.

The paper, titled “Synthesis and characterization of water-soluble carbon nanotubes from mustard soot,” appeared in the October 2005 edition of Pramana, the Indian Academy of Sciences’ journal of physics.

Despite excitement over new cosmetics that include nanomaterials, it appears that people actually have been using nano-enabled cosmetics for thousands of years. - David Forman