Mind & Matter


Glassy Carbon as Strong as Diamonds

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Rough diamonds from Botswana. Photo: National Geographic.


Diamond is known to be the world’s hardest natural material, but this crystalline form of carbon has one drawback. As an anisotropic material, diamond is not equally strong in all directions. Based on this limitation, scientists synthesized a material in the 1950s called “glassy carbon,” which exhibited significant strength without the limitations of this directionality.

Recently, a team of researchers from Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution of Science revisited this glassy carbon model, making a new form of the material under 400,000 times normal atmospheric pressure. The new carbon allotrope is just as strong as diamond, with the added benefit of an amorphous structure that can counteract forces from all directions.

According to Russell Hemley, director of the Geophysical Laboratory at Carnegie, “These findings open up possibilities for potential applications, including super hard anvils for high-pressure research and could lead to new classes of ultradense and strong materials.”



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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.