Diamond no longer nature’s hardest material

By | February 17, 2009

Scientists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and University of Nevada, Las Vegas had created materials which are harder than diamond.€  Diamonds were thought as the hardest material in this world; however scientists converted certain materials with compressive pressure under indenter which were transformed into materials harder than diamond.€  The two materials were wurtzite boron nitride (w-BN) and lonsdaleite (hexagonal diamond).€  It was said that lonsdaleite was 50% harder than w-BN.€  The compressive pressure caused the structural phase transformation and atomic bonds flipping to transform the materials.€  The finding was published in Physical Review Letters. – kuku

Diamond will always be a girl’s best friend, but it may soon lose favour with industrial drillers.

The gemstone lost its title of the “world’s hardest material” to man-made nanomaterials some time ago. Now a rare natural substance looks likely to leave them all far behind — at 58% harder than diamond.

Zicheng Pan at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and colleagues simulated how atoms in two substances believed to have promise as very hard materials would respond to the stress of a finely tipped probe pushing down on them.

Extreme conditions

The first, wurtzite boron nitride has a similar structure to diamond, but is made up of different atoms.

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~adg/images/minerals/sphal/wurtzite.jpgThe second, the mineral lonsdaleite, or hexagonal diamond is made from carbon atoms just like diamond, but they are arranged in a different shape.

Only small amounts of wurtzite boron nitride and lonsdaleite exist naturally or have been made in the lab so until now no one had realised their superior strength. The simulation showed that wurtzide boron nitride would withstand 18% more stress than diamond, and lonsdaleite 58% more. If the results are confirmed with physical experiments, both materials would be far harder than any substance ever measured.

Doing those tests won’t be easy, though. Because both are rare in nature, a way is needed to make enough of either of them to test the prediction.

Rare mineral lonsdaleite is sometimes formed when meteorites containing graphite hit Earth, while wurtzite boron nitride is formed during volcanic eruptions that produce very high temperatures and pressures.

Flexible friend

If confirmed, however, wurtzite boron nitride may turn out most useful of the two, because it is stable in oxygen at higher temperatures than diamond. This makes it ideal to place on the tips of cutting and drilling tools operating at high temperatures, or as corrosion resistant films c on the surface of a space vehicle, for example.

Paradoxically, wurtzite boron nitride’s hardness appears to come from the flexibility of the bonds between the atoms that make it up. When the material is stressed some bonds re-orientate themselves by about 90ˆ« to relieve the tension.

Although diamond undergoes a similar process, something about the structure of wurtzite boron nitride makes it nearly 80% stronger after the process takes place, says study co-author Changfeng Chen at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, an ability diamond does not have. …

via Diamond no longer nature’s hardest material – tech – 16 February 2009 – New Scientist.

One thought on “Diamond no longer nature’s hardest material

  1. vikasreddyd

    Sounds pretty interesting. 58% harder is ridiculous considering a normal diamond’s type of carbon structure. It can resist corrosion for spaceflight too?

    “When the material is stressed some bonds re-orientate themselves by about 90¬∫ to relieve the tension.”

    Makes you wonder what else we’ll discover to keep changing the school textbooks.

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