Polyyne said to be 40 times harder than diamond

Work in Israel reported in the Jerusalem Post: “Scientists from Bar-Ilan University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology say that using nanotechnology, they have discovered a material 40 times harder. Professors Eli Altus, Harold Basch and Shmaryahu Hoz, with doctoral student Lior Itzhaki have published their findings in the Internet edition of the world’s most influential chemistry journal, [Angewandte] Chemie.

“If nanotechnology can be applied to create tiny machines, scientists must first understand the connection between the quantum mechanical behavior of atoms and molecules and the classical world of mechanical engineering. For example, a miniature vacuum cleaner might be built to travel through human blood vessels and clean out excessive cholesterol. Yet it is unknown whether its tiny mechanical arm would be strong enough to remove the fatty plaques…

“The team broke the world hardness record by combining quantum mechanics, chemistry and mechanical engineering. They synthesized polyyne, a superhard molecular rod comprised of acetylene units – that resists 40 times more longitudinal compression than a diamond. Ironically, these glittery gems are comprised from the element carbon and have the weakest type of chemical bonds, while polyyne has the strongest bonds in carbon chemistry.”

Sounds great, although the claim that we can’t tell whether a tiny mechanical arm would be strong enough doesn’t seem quite right. We should be able to calculate the strength and stiffness of such an arm today, with different answers depending on the design.—Christine

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