When we think of the toughest naturally-occurring material on Earth, we think of diamonds. These pretty materials on our engagement rings can cut rock and steel. Over past years, however, scientists have been improving their hardness, and now a team of Australian researchers has created a rare type of diamond that is even tougher than regular diamonds.
Very useful for mine sites
The upgraded diamond is a version of Lonsdaleite that has been discovered occurring naturally at the center of some meteorite impact sites worldwide. Lonsdaleite was first discovered in 1967 in the Canyon Diablo meteorite site. The diamond is special because it is made up of carbon in a hexagonal lattice, while most diamonds are made up of carbon in a cubic lattice. This makes the new diamond about 58% harder than a regular diamond, according to Science Alert.
Researchers were now able to make a nano-scale version of Lonsdaleite in the laboratory, and they predict that it is even tougher than the naturally-occurring diamond. In fact, it is so hard that the team suggests that its immediate use will be in mines, where it can cut through ultra-solid materials, even regular diamonds. The research was published in Scientific Reports.
Jodie Bradby, lead researcher from Australian National University, said, “The hexagonal structure of this diamond’s atoms makes it much harder than regular diamonds, which have a cubic structure. We’ve been able to make it at the nanoscale and this is exciting because often with these materials ‘smaller is stronger’.”
Nano-engineering used to make this diamond
The Aussie research team was able to create the new material by nano-engineering the diamond from scratch by using a type of carbon that does not have a set form, called amorphous carbon. Bradby and her team put this carbon into a device known as a diamond anvil, which is made up of two diamonds opposing each other. This was done to recreate the high pressures that one would find deep inside Earth.
The researchers were able to create this pretty material using the device at temperatures of just 752 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius). The temperature, which was around half as hot as previous methods, made the recreation more efficient and a lot cheaper. Even before, the scientists were able to make it in the lab, but they did not have much success. The material required unbelievable temperatures of about 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius), notes Science Alert.