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Diamonds, an Astronaut's Best Friend?

Sep 23, 2014 10:13 AM EDT
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'The Pink Star' diamond ring: The most expensive jewellery in the world

Diamonds are a girl's best friend, but they could be NASA's, too. That's according to a new study that proposes using diamonds to make a synthetic strong enough to support an elevator so tall that it shoots into space.

The space elevator is not exactly a new idea. It has been around for a while and generally is seen as a better alternative for the cost of fuel and expendable rocket parts to get humans and cargo into space. Such an elevator would serve as a sort of "stairway to heaven," where a observation pod could be lifted into geostationary orbit around Earth on a long and super strong tether. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : Wiki CC0)

Unfortunately, back when the diamond was the world's hardest material on the planet, it was still deemed too brittle to properly support such a project. However, diamonds lost their title as "world's hardest" some time ago, with synthetic nanomaterials taking the lead. More recently, various versions of boron-nitrate crystals have been found as the potentially toughest natural materials, but are so incredibly rare that the claim cannot be confirmed.

Now, however, researchers from Penn State University claim to have discovered how to create incredibly hardy nanothreads, potentially providing a means for the space elevator dream to become reality.

"It is as if an incredible jeweler has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace," John V. Badding, who led a study of the material, said in a statement. "Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful."

According to the study, recently published in the journal Nature Materials, this discovery comes after nearly a century of labs trying to craft a diamond-based nanofiber. They achieved this after developing a technique that literally presses and molds benzene - a flat ring containing six carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms - into uniquely shaped nanothreads that boast the tetrahedral configuration of diamond. (Scroll to read on....)

(Photo : Enshi Xu, Penn State University)

"One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials we are developing is that they could be used to make the super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible the construction of a "space elevator" which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea," Badding added.

Badding and his team are now working on creating various materials with these threads in the hopes of creating components for a great number of applications, space elevator included.

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