A team including several Carnegie scientists has developed a form of ultrastrong, lightweight carbon that is also elastic and electrically conductive. A material with such a unique combination of properties could serve a wide variety of applications from aerospace engineering to military armor.
Carbon is an element of seemingly infinite possibilities. This is because the configuration of its electrons allows for numerous self-bonding combinations that give rise to a range of materials with varying properties. For example, transparent, superhard diamonds, and opaque graphite, which is used for both pencils and industrial lubricant, are comprised solely of carbon.
In this international collaboration between Yanshan University and Carnegie—which included Carnegie’s Zhisheng Zhao, Timothy Strobel, Yoshio Kono, Jinfu Shu, Ho-kwang “Dave” Mao, Yingwei Fei, and Guoyin Shen—scientists pressurized and heated a structurally disordered form of carbon called glassy carbon. The glassy carbon starting material was brought to about 250,000 times normal atmospheric pressure and heated to approximately 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit to create the new strong and elastic carbon. Their findings are published by Science Advances.
Scientists had previously tried subjecting glassy carbon to high pressures at both room temperature (referred to as cold compression) and extremely high temperatures. But the so-called cold-synthesized material could not maintain its structure when brought back to ambient pressure, and under the extremely hot conditions, nanocrystalline diamonds were formed.
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