Ultrahard bulk amorphous carbon from collapsed fullerene

Scientists created a new Ultrahard Glass. Yingwei Fei and Lin Wang of Carnegie Mellon University were part of an international research team that developed a new ultrahard form of carbon glass with a wide range of potential uses in devices and electronics. Among all glass materials, it is the hardest known glass with the highest thermal conductivity. Their findings are published in Nature.

When it comes to knowing a material’s qualities, function comes first. The physical properties of a substance are determined by how its atoms are chemically bound to each other and the ensuing structural arrangement—both those that can be seen with the naked eye and those that can only be discovered through scientific research.

Carbon’s capacity to form stable structures, both alone and in conjunction with other elements, is unsurpassed. Carbon is highly structured, with repeating crystalline lattices in some forms. Others are amorphous, which means they are more disorganized.

The hardness of a carbon-based substance is determined by the sort of bond that holds it together. Two-dimensional bindings exist in soft graphite, while three-dimensional bonds exist in hard diamonds.

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Scientists created a new Ultrahard Glass
Optical image of thin slices of bulk sp3 amorphous carbon samples. Image from www.nature.com

“The synthesis of an amorphous carbon material with three-dimensional bonds has been a long-standing goal,” explained Fei. “The trick is to find the right starting material to transform with the application of pressure.”

“For decades Carnegie researchers have been at the forefront of the field, using laboratory techniques to generate extreme pressures to produce novel materials or mimic the conditions found deep inside planets,” added Carnegie Earth and Planets Laboratory Director Richard Carlson.

Diamond cannot be used as a starting point to synthesis diamond-like glass due to its exceptionally high melting point. The study team, led by Bingbing Liu of Jilin University and Mingguang Yao of Carnegie Mellon University, made their breakthrough by using a type of carbon made up of 60 molecules arranged in a hollow spherical. This Nobel Prize-winning material, known as a buckyball, was heated just enough to collapse its soccer-ball-like structure and cause disorder before being turned into a crystalline diamond under pressure.

The diamond-like glass was created using a large-volume multi-anvil press. For characterization, the glass was large enough. A range of modern, high-resolution techniques for investigating atomic structure was used to confirm its properties.

“The creation of a glass with such superior properties will open the door to new applications,” Fei explained. “The use of new glass materials hinges on making large pieces, which has posed a challenge in the past. The comparatively low temperature at which we were able to synthesize this new ultrahard diamond glass makes mass production more practical.”  

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