Scientists discover new form of superhard carbon


October 13, 2011

A new form of superhard carbon discovered by scientists could have advantages over diamonds (Image: Swamibu via Flickr)

A new form of superhard carbon discovered by scientists could have advantages over diamonds (Image: Swamibu via Flickr)

Carbon is the fourth-most-abundant element in the universe and comes in a wide variety of forms, called allotropes, including graphite, graphene, and the hardest natural material known to man, diamonds. Now scientists have discovered a new form of carbon that is capable of withstanding extreme pressure stresses previously only observed in diamond. Unlike crystalline forms of carbon such as diamonds, whose hardness is highly dependent upon the direction in which the crystal is formed, the new form of carbon is amorphous meaning it could be equally strong in all directions.

A team including scientists from Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science started with a form of carbon called glassy carbon. Glassy carbon was first synthesized in the 1950s and was found to combine glassy and ceramic properties with those of graphite, including high temperature resistance, hardness, low density, low electrical resistance, low friction and low thermal resistance. To create the new carbon allotrope, the team compressed glassy carbon to above 400,000 times normal atmospheric pressure.

The resultant new form of carbon was capable of withstanding the types of pressure stress that no other substance other than diamond had been able to withstand. It was able to withstand 1.3 million times normal atmospheric pressure in one direction while confined under a pressure of 600,000 times atmospheric levels in another direction.

Because, unlike diamonds, the structure of the new allotrope is not organized in repeating atomic units, it may hold potential advantages over diamonds. Whereas a diamond's hardness is highly dependent on the orientation of its crystalline structure, the new material is amorphous, meaning its structure lacks the long-range order of crystals offering the prospect that the new material could be isotropic - that is, having equally strong hardness in all directions. If this turns out to be the case, it could be better suited to certain applications than diamonds.

"These findings open up possibilities for potential applications, including super hard anvils for high-pressure research and could lead to new classes of ultradense and strong materials," said Russell Hemley, director of Carnegie's Geophysical Laboratory.

The team's discovery will be published in Physical Review Letters.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

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i see the use of such a material piston and sleeve application for fossil could be run at extreamly high temps. therefore having zero emissions.

Cowfy Kaufman

Wow this is actually impressive and definitely will find millions of applications!

Kirill Belousov

Transparent aluminum?

Racqia Dvorak

I would love to see Cutting tools based on this material. Imagine cutting D2 like it was aluminum...

I just wonder what type of device can comperes carbon to 400,000 atmosphere\'s


\"To create the new carbon allotrope, the team compressed glassy carbon to above 400,000 times normal atmospheric pressure.\"

Somehow I can\'t see that going into wide scale production anytime soon. It\'s probably only seen in minute granules visible only in a microscope.



Bob Humbly

Does this hardest carbon have a name?


It sounds like a quasicrystal structure which Dan Shechtman recently won the Nobel prize for, his discovery caused a paradigm shift in chemistry and has led to a new category of solids and caused all chemistry books to be updated.


I wonder what the thermal conductivity is of this.

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