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New Form of Carbon Is Super-Strong, Can Kick Diamond’s Ass

And it only maybe explodes!

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Carbon is kind of awesome: other than the element that, you know, is what all organic life on earth is based on, it’s now even more than sparkly, gorgeous diamonds and many an artist’s best friend in graphite and charcoal. In a new paper, scientists theorize that double- or triple-bonded carbon atoms will make the world’s strongest material. Sorry, diamonds.

In their not-yet-published study (which can be found here, on the Arxiv pre-press servers), Mingjie Liu and a team at Rice University have dubbed this new, theoretical material carbyne: a chain of carbon atoms linked either through double bonds only, or alternating triple and single bonds. In the past, carbyne was thought to be wildly unstable, to the point that if two separate strands touched, things would get a little bit kaboomy. But since one of the great things about scientists is their fascination with things that might explode, so nanotechnologists didn’t give up.

Liu and her team have put some serious thought into the theoretical principles of carbyne, and deduced that it ought to be twice as stiff as any known material, as well as far stronger than anything that exists. And, for the atomically-inclined among us, it’s interesting to note that carbyne has a flexibility between DNA and a typical polymer, and has the ability to rotate freely or stay stiff when twisted depended on the chemical group to which it is attached.

Lastly, they suggest that while carbyne could technically explode if it comes into contact with another chain, there is something called an “activation barrier” that would prevent such an occurrence from happening easily, making this the newest material to be perfect for short term engagements.

(via Technology Review, image via Wikimedia)

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