4 Substances Harder than Diamonds But With Much Suckier Names
Buckyballs are forever. “With this wurtzite boron nitride ring, I thee wed.” Doesn’t quite sound right does it? There’s just something about that word: “diamond.” It stems from the ancient Greek word adámas, which means “proper,” “unalterable” and “unbreakable.” (source) The word itself conjures images of crystalline perfection, beauty, wealth, love everlasting and even bloodshed. But while diamonds are the end result of over a billion years worth of pressure, have held their position as “world’s hardest substance” since their discovery nearly six thousand years ago, recent human innovations and discoveries have uncovered four substances harder than diamonds. But their names aren’t nearly as sexy.
I don’t know who was handing out names at the time, but whoever decided to call Carbon 60 “Buckminsterfullerene,” (in honour of R. Buckminster Fuller) inadvertently sentenced the poor molecule to a lifetime of ridicule from all its fellow carbon-ites. As funny as the name sounds however, when carbon nanotubes (fibers which are approximately 50,000 times thinner than the hairs on your head) are employed to form “Buckypaper,” you have in your hands a material which is 500 times stronger than steel, and twice as hard as diamonds. Buckypaper made from Buckyballs, another unfortunate nickname for the carbon molecule, will be extremely useful for computer and television screen illumination as “It would be more energy-efficient, lighter, and would allow for a more uniform level of brightness than current cathode ray tube (CRT) and liquid crystal display (LCD) technology.” Its heat dispersion properties could be used to protect airplanes from lightning strikes, and it’s strength can used as protective armour. (source)
Wurtzite Boron Nitride
Despite the fact that when you say wurtzite boron nitride out loud it almost sounds like “Worst Moron Nightrider, it is still 18% harder than a diamond. The two are very similar on a structural level, and while diamonds are produced from carbon under pressure over time, wurtzite boron nitride (WBN) is born from the incredible heat and pressure produced during volcanic eruptions. And just like diamonds WBN is forged with cutting tools, tools which greatly benefit from its extreme hardness and polycrystalline structure.
According to Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester, England, graphene is “the thinnest known material in the universe, and the strongest ever measured.” Then why on earth would you give it a name that makes it sound like Graphite’s little sister? Well I guess when you name your boy Sue, he’s bound to grow up tougher, as is the case with graphene, a substance stronger than a diamond, and as thin as an atom. Just like a diamond it comes from pure carbon, but unlike a diamond it is very flexible and can be rolled out like an indestructible carpet. An excellent article outlining the history of graphene, its creation/discovery and its potential use in electronic technology can be found here.
When a meteor smashes into our planet, the impact transforms the meteor’s graphite into a substance which breaks the “I before E except after C” rule. Lonsdaleite is similar to diamonds, in that its made from carbon, but it retains graphite’s hexagonal crystal lattice. This afternoon delight was discovered in 1967 in Arizona, from the Canyon Diablo meteorite. The Mohs hardness of a diamond is 10, the Mohs hardness of lonsdaleite is only 7-8, a quality due to impurities inherent with naturally occurring substances. Scientists however, can produce pure lonsdaleite which boasts a Mohs hardness of 15.8. Step aside diamonds, there’s a new substance in town.
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