New nano material is far tougher than diamonds By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
Nothing is harder than diamond, right? Wrong. 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, Angewdte 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.
"We don't know if the rules of macro are relevant on the nano level," says Hoz. "For example, we're not sure if I-shaped beams (which are the strong structures used for construction of houses and railway ties) are also the optimally strong structure in the nano world," where materials are measured in microns.
Hoz says his team wanted to bridge the macro world of mechanical engineering and the nano world controlled by quantum mechanics. For this he brought together Eltus from the Technion, who is an expert in the former, and BIU's Basch, a specialist in the latter.
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.