Diamond is one of the hardest materials in the world. So logically, things made from diamonds should also be very stiff. However lately, a group of researchers from Penn State University, has created the first diamond nanothreads — which are basically like carbon nanotubes, but stronger and stiffer. According to researchers, mathematically, these diamond nanothreads are possibly the strongest and stiffest material that can be constructed in the known universe.
Diamond is very closely related to graphene and carbon nanotubes — two materials that have their own set of remarkable properties. Basically, all three materials are made out of carbon atoms — but the arrangement of the carbon atoms dictates the final properties (these same-but-different materials are called allotropes). Diamond, for example, is exceptionally hard because each carbon atom is bonded to four others to form a tetrahedral (pyramid) structure (this is called sp3 hybridization). Generally, most allotropes of carbon are very strong and exceptionally conductive (both heat and electricity).
However, earlier we haven’t seen researchers trying to create ultra-thin diamond nanothreads. But now, for the first time, Penn State University researchers have worked out how to create ultra-thin diamond nanothreads that promise extraordinary strength and stiffness. The researchers have created long threads of tetrahedral carbon. The core component of these nanothreads is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged in the unique diamond structure – zig-zag cyclohexane rings of six carbon atoms are bound together, and each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron. According to researchers, these diamond nanothreads should have even greater strength and stiffness than carbon nanotubes and advanced polymers.
John Badding, lead researcher behind making diamond nanothreads, said, “One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials we are developing is that they could be used to make the super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible the construction of a space elevator, which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea. From a fundamental-science point of view, our discovery is intriguing because the threads we formed have a structure that has never been seen before. It is as if an incredible jeweler has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace. We expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful.”
Please note that researchers haven’t physically tested their diamond nanothreads yet. So it may or may not be the the strongest and stiffest material that can be constructed in the known universe. But mathematically, researchers have found these diamond nanothreads possibly the strongest and stiffest material that can be constructed in Earth.
On the other side, researchers claim that these diamond nanothreads might be exactly what we need to get crazy seemingly impossible constructions off the whiteboard and into reality. The research has been published in Nature Materials. You will find out more about the discovery in the video below.