Self-support length is the maximum length of a vertical column of the material (assuming a fixed cross-section) that could suspend its own weight when supported only at the top this is an important consideration in the construction of a space elevator. While it is unlikely a strand one molecule wide to stretch from the surface of the Earth to space, it would be interesting to know what the longest self-support length a chain one molecule wide (single-chain polymers) could be.

A larger molecule gives a larger cross section, but it is also heavier. Most space elevator concepts are tapered to provide additional strength where the load is greatest.

What kind of single-chain polymers can provide the longest self-support length for a column one molecule wide, and what would that self-support length be?

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    $\begingroup$ depends on how you define molecule, some pedants would classify a metal block as a single molecule $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2015 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ Are you looking for the material that would provide the longest self-support length as well as what that length would be? $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2015 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ Building on what ratchet freak mentioned, "molecule" may or may not have a useful notion depending on the base material. For most thermoplastics and elastomers you might talk about a single polymer chain. For metals and many ceramics, the notion of molecule is unclear, and nano-metals and nano-ceramics behave very differently than in bulk! $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2015 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @TrevorArchibald Yes, "the material that would provide the longest self-support length as well as what that length would be" $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2015 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ I am not putting limits on the definition of a molecule for this question. The Wikipedia article Molecule notes that the definition is not always strict. If you believe that a supportable definition makes more sense to answer this question, included it, along with support for your definition. I am far from an expert and do not want to instil artificial boundary's. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2015 at 17:02


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