Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Diamond Nanothread: a new (Potentially) Wunder Material Made From Carbon

Hardly a week goes by without somebody proclaiming a new application for graphene, the form of carbon that occurs in single sheets with chicken wire-like structure (see “Research Hints at Graphene’s Photovoltaic Potential”). Roll a graphene sheet into a tube and it forms a carbon nanotube, another wonder material with numerous applications. And wrap it further into a ball and, with a small rearrangement of bonds, it forms buckyballs.

Now there is a new kid on the carbon block. Last month, a team at Pennsylvania State University and elsewhere announced they had created another type of carbon that takes the form of a one-dimensional diamond crystal capped with hydrogen. They call this new material diamond nanothread.

That caused a flurry of excitement and raised some interesting questions. Materials scientists are fascinated by the potential properties of a diamond nanothread and its applications. But one fear is that such a thread would be so brittle that it would shatter like glass under any kind of load, a property that would severely limit its use.

Today, we get some new insight into diamond nanothreads thanks to the work of Haifei Zhan at Queensland University of Technology in Australia and a few pals. These guys have modeled the threads using large-scale molecular dynamics simulations. And they conclude that the material could be more versatile than anyone thought. There are tentative signs that diamond nanothread could be a new a wonder material in its own right.

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