Carbon is kind of like a wonder material. If it wasn’t cool enough that it comes in various, natural forms like graphite and diamond, engineers have since come up with entirely new configurations; or at least new ways to manipulate the same structures at smaller scales. New research has taken it yet one step further.
Carbon nanotubes led the way in famous nanomaterials. More recently graphene has taken the spotlight. Both have been theorized and verified (at least partially) to have extraordinary properties regarding strength and conductivity. Research at Penn State has brought a new kid to the block: diamond nanothreads.
According to the Penn State press release, “The core of the nanothreads is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond's structure -- zig-zag "cyclohexane" rings of six carbon atoms bound together, in which each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron.” The diamond nanothreads promise even greater strength than current carbon nanomaterials.
In case you’re into recipes, here are the basics. First, the researchers compress benzene (a liquid) at extreme pressures (20 GPa, or about 200,000 atm). Then they slowly release the pressure. As the pressure is released, the carbon atoms reorganize to form a linear collection of tetrahedra. This diamond core is surrounded by the displaced hydrogen atoms.
The researchers used a slew of analysis techniques, both experimental and computational, to verify their findings. The work also opens up the possibility of future modifications to the process. As described by John V. Badding, the research team leader, “The dream is to be able to add other atoms that would be incorporated into the resulting nanothread. By pressurizing whatever liquid we design, we may be able to make an enormous number of different materials."
The possibilities abound for advanced applications. Stronger, lighter, stiffer materials could allow for improvements on current technologies, but may also allow for entirely new ones. This just goes to show that carbon has many tricks up its sleeve, but dedicated research has a way of coaxing them out.
The video below explains more about the material.
Photos courtesy of PSU News