Nanomaterial science has sometimes resulted in redefining the known forms of carbon. When carbon nanotubes were first discovered over twenty years ago the long-held paradigm of there being just three forms of carbon (diamond, graphite, and amorphous carbon) had to be reassessed.
Now an international team of researchers working at Argonne National Laboratory's Advanced Photon Source is reporting that they have developed another new form of carbon that is so strong it can dent a diamond.
"We created a new type of carbon material, one that is comparable to diamond in its inability to be compressed," says scientist Lin Wang in an Argonne press release. "Once created under extreme pressures, this material can exist at normal conditions, meaning it could be used for a wide array of practical applications."
The research, which was published in the journal Science ("Long-Range Ordered Carbon Clusters: A Crystalline Material with Amorphous Building Blocks"), combined two forms of carbon—one with an organized structure and another without one—to create a hybrid material that until now had only been theorized about.
The researchers started with carbon-60 “buckyballs”—for which the riddle of their formation was just recently solved--and crushed them with flattened diamond tips. After being crushed, the buckyballs form themselves into a new, harder form of carbon.
The key to the process is that the crushing had to be done just right with the right amount of pressure. If not done to the correct pressure, the new material would return to its original, less durable buckyball form.
The research also points to this being just the tip of the iceberg in creating new forms of carbon.
Lin Wang further notes in the press release: “The thing that stands out for me from this work is that carbon-60 can crystallize with various solvents, and those solvates would have different periodicities, which enables us to synthesize a series of similar carbon materials with different packing symmetry and carbon cluster size by compressing different types of carbon molecules."
Although it was not discussed in the press release, I couldn’t help but wonder if this new form of carbon will be of interest to the Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle sect of the molecular nanotechnology community. Maybe these new carbon materials can serve as the basic building blocks for automated exponential manufacturing where diamonds have not been able to impress even Eric Drexler himself.