Is There a Material Stronger Than Diamond?

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The most durable and hard-to-break materials on Earth are diamonds. They can cut through steel and rock, are resistant to abrasions, and even repel bullets. But scientists have been searching for a material that is even tougher than diamonds. For decades, they have claimed that they have created materials that are stronger than diamonds but every few years the news is met with criticism and doubt.

One such contender is a type of carbon called lonsdaleite which occurs naturally at the center of a few meteorite impact sites on Earth. Researchers found that lonsdaleite can be compressed into a form called w-BN, which is about 78 percent stronger than diamonds in terms of resistance to indentation. The strength of w-BN comes from the tightly bonded carbon atoms. Under large compression, they flip around and bond more strongly with other atoms in the material. This is called “bond-flipping” and is what makes w-BN so much harder than diamonds.

But it turns out that there may be even a tougher version of carbon than lonsdaleite. A rare material called wurtzite boron nitride forms when carbon atoms fuse together to form a crystal structure. It has a unique tetrahedral atomic lattice which is about 18% tougher than diamonds in terms of resistance to indentation, according to new computer simulations. But wurtzite boron is very rare and difficult to make so it has never been physically tested. Even so, it may be the strongest material ever made.