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"Human beings hardly ever learn from the experience of others. They learn; when they do, which isn't often, on their own, the hard way."
- Robert Heinlein

Spinnerettes  
  A device that will unspool a nanowire filament and then pull it back in.  

This item is described as "a small flat box the size of a pocket calculator." At the time of the novel's publication, that meant a box about three inches by six inches by one inch thick.

Morgan had now produced the metal box that had allowed him to perform his miracle. Its only features were a few buttons, and a small read-out panel. "...The reason you can't see this sample is that it's only a few microns thick. Much thinner than a spider's web."

"...What is it?"

"The result of two hundred years of solid-state physics. For whatever good that does, it is a continuous pseudo-one dimensional diamond crystal - though it's not actually pure carbon. There are several trace elements in carefully controlled amounts. It can be mass-produced only in the orbiting factories, where there's no gravity to interfere with the growth process..."

"...But it's tricky to handle, even dangerous. We've had to design special dispensers to spool and unspool it. We call them 'spinnerettes.' This is a power-operated one, made for demonstration purposes. The motor can lift a couple of hundred kilos, and I'm always finding new uses for it."

From The Fountains of Paradise, by Arthur C. Clarke.
Published by Ballantine in 1978
Additional resources -

In the novel, the thread is made out of a very strong and light material. It is practically invisible, and is very dangerous to handle. The thread is attached to steel rings at one end, and its spool at the other.

A spinneret (note the slightly different spelling) are "any of various tubular structures from which spiders and certain insect larvae, such as silkworms, secrete the silk threads from which they form webs or cocoons." Spinnerets are also used in the production of most manufactured fibers; they are similar in principle to a bathroom shower head. Most synthetic and cellulosic manufactured fibers are created by extrusion; a thick, viscous liquid (about the consistency of cold honey) is forced through the tiny holes of a spinneret to form continuous filaments of semi-solid polymer.

Read more about manufacturing fiber formation technology.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Fountains of Paradise
  More Ideas and Technology by Arthur C. Clarke
  Tech news articles related to The Fountains of Paradise
  Tech news articles related to works by Arthur C. Clarke

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