According to scientists at Rice University, a material called carbyne will be the strongest material if and when anyone can make it in bulk.
Carbyne is a chain of carbon atoms held together by either double or alternating single and triple atomic bonds. That makes it a true one-dimensional material, unlike atom-thin sheets of graphene that have a top and a bottom or hollow nanotubes that have an inside and outside.
According to calculations reported in the journal ACS Nano, carbyne’s tensile strength – the ability to withstand stretching – surpasses that of any other known material and is double that of graphene.
It has twice the tensile stiffness of graphene and carbon nanotubes and nearly three times that of diamond. Stretching carbyne as little as 10 percent alters its electronic band gap significantly. The material is stable at room temperature, largely resisting crosslinks with nearby chains.
“You could look at it as an ultimately thin graphene ribbon, reduced to just one atom, or an ultimately thin nanotube. It could be useful for nanomechanical systems, in spintronic devices, as sensors, as strong and light materials for mechanical applications or for energy storage,” said study senior author Dr Boris Yakobson.
“Regardless of the applications, it’s very exciting to know the strongest possible assembly of atoms.”
“Based on the calculations, carbyne might be the highest energy state for stable carbon. People usually look for what is called the ‘ground state,’ the lowest possible energy configuration for atoms. For carbon, that would be graphite, followed by diamond, then nanotubes, then fullerenes. But nobody asks about the highest energy configuration. We think this may be it, a stable structure at the highest energy possible.”