In 1985, two Rice University scientists and a British collaborator found a brand new kind of carbon in the form of a soccer ball simply one nanometer huge. That’s only a billionth of a meter, and smaller than the DNA in your cells. Just a few years later, a tubular kind of these tiny carbon molecules was found and these carbon nanotubes can be a part of collectively to kind supplies with extraordinary properties — higher energy than metal and the conductivity on par with aluminum wire.

Seventeen years in the past this month, Nobel laureate Richard Smalley, one of the two Rice scientists, testified to Congress about the potential of nanotubes to energy a clear power revolution. Battling most cancers, his hair taken by chemotherapy, Smalley urged Congress to assist American scientists “create a cornucopia of new technologies that will … solve the energy problem within this generation.”

“We can find ‘the new oil,’ the new technology that provides the massive clean, low-cost energy necessary for advanced civilization of the 10 billion souls we expect to be living on this planet before this century is out,” he stated.

Those who heard him that day in the Capitol nonetheless discuss the hovering imaginative and prescient the dying scientist spelled out for the nation, and but all these years later it’s clear that the full potential of his work was but to be understood.