Scientists have found a new way to structure carbon at the nanoscale, making a material that's superior to diamond on the strength-to-density ratio.
While the tiny carbon lattice has been fabricated and tested in the lab, it's a very long way off practical use. But this new approach could help us build stronger and lighter materials in the future.
The scientists reported success in conceptualizing and fabricating the material, which consists of closely connected, closed-cell plates instead of the cylindrical trusses common in such structures over the past few decades.
The material is made of nanolattices, which are based around a cylindrical framework (they're called beam-nanolattices). But the team has now created plate-nanolattices, structures based around tiny plates.
Based on early experiments and calculations, the plate approach promises a 639 percent increase in strength and a 522 percent increase in rigidity over the beam nanolattice approach.
Using liquid resin sensitive to ultraviolet light, the process shoots photons at the resin to turn it into a solid polymer in a particular shape. Additional steps are then required to remove excess resin and to heat up the structure to fix it in place.
What the scientists have managed to do here actually comes close to the maximum theoretical stiffness and strength of a material of this type – limits known as the Hashin-Shtrikman and Suquet upper bounds.
As for how these nanolattices might eventually be used, they'll certainly be of interest to aerospace engineers – their combination of strength and low density makes them ideal for aircraft and spacecraft.