For some time now, graphene has been the wonder material that scientists have been most excited about using: as it develops, it promises to transform everything from night-vision goggles to energy storage. Now researchers across the globe think they've come up with a material to rival it: diamond nanothread.
The clues are in the name. This potentially revolutionary, next-generation material is partly made from diamond and is incredibly thin as well as incredibly strong. Technically speaking, we're looking at a type of carbon (like graphene) taking the form of a one-dimensional diamond crystal that's topped with hydrogen. To create the material, benzene molecules were stacked together and pressurised.
It's too early to say how diamond nanothread could be used - right now scientists are still at the research and simulation stage - but one of the appeals of a material like this is its versatility. And a team of scientists working at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia has been looking into the properties of diamond nanothread and think it might be more versatile and robust than originally believed.
In fact, it could be developed to be rigid in some places and flexible in others, MIT Technology Review reports. Thanks to some large-scale molecular dynamics simulations, the Australian researchers were able to create a form of diamond nanothread with built-in hinges that would allow it to fold and bend. In other words, this new super material could be made as brittle as uncooked spaghetti or as flexible as the cooked variety.
The next step is to test diamond nanothread in real-world scenarios rather than simulations.
"[The material's] highly tunable ductility together with its ultra-light density and high Young's modulus makes diamond nanothread ideal for creation of extremely strong three-dimensional nano-architectures," the team writes in the paper, published online at arXiv.org. Young's modulus refers to a material's tendency to return to its original shape after being put under pressure.
"It is as if an incredible jeweller has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace," Pennsylvania State University researcher John Badding said last year when the diamond nanothread material was first discovered. "Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful."
As Gizmodo reports, the wonder material may one day be used to finally make space elevators a reality. We still need to figure out how to mass-produce this material, and test how well it's going to stand up in various conditions, but new research is showing just how promising diamond nanothreads can be.