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New carbon form is light, super strong, elastic

Scientists have invented a form of ultra strong, lightweight carbon that is also elastic and electrically conductive. It could serve a wide variety of applications from aerospace engineering to military armor.

“Light materials with high strength and robust elasticity like this are very desirable for applications where weight savings are of the utmost importance, even more than material cost,” said Zhisheng Zhao a former Carnegie fellow who is now a Yanshan University professor. “What’s more, we believe that this synthesis method could be honed to create other extraordinary forms of carbon and entirely different classes of materials.”

In a collaboration between Yanshan University and the Carnegie Institution for Science, researchers 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.

Carbon is an “element of seemingly infinite possibilities,” the researchers said. “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, super hard diamonds, and opaque graphite, which is used for both pencils and industrial lubricant, are comprised solely of carbon.”

Scientists had previously tried subjecting glassy carbon to high pressures at both room temperature 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.

The newly created carbon is comprised of both graphite-like and diamond-like bonding motifs, creating the unique combination of properties.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

By: David Beasley, Staff Writer

Source: Carnegie Institution for Science

Photo Credit: Timothy Strobel

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