Materials scientists have created a substance called 'new diamond.' It has the hardness of diamonds, without one of their very significant weaknesses. Unfortunately, the 'new diamonds' don't have their advantageous sparkle either. Learn about the strength behind diamond's 'ugly stepsisters.'
Diamond is one of the hardest substances in the world. It's able to withstand scratching and pressure and incredible shocks, or at least that's what we've been told. Although diamonds have been held up as an amalgamation of strength and beauty, their beauty is actually their weakness. They're crystals. A crystal is formed when atoms, in this case carbon atoms, are locked into a repeating structure. The structure is patterned, but it is not symmetrical in every direction. Hit the structure one way and it's hard as, well, a diamond. Hit it another way and it has only a small fraction of the hardness.
Enter 'new diamond.' This material is created from a material first made in the 1950s called 'glassy carbon.' Glassy carbon is a hard, difficult-to-melt, glass-like substance that's often used because of its durability. Compress that to 400,000 times atmospheric pressure and you create the dark, slightly shiny material of new diamond. It can take 1.3 million times atmospheric pressure, a feat only matched by diamonds. Unlike diamonds, new diamond is not a crystalline structure but an amorphous material - aka a blob. Since its molecules are oriented any which way, they can be hit any which way and stand up to the same pressure.
And what will scientists do with this new wonder material? The first idea is to make new diamond into an anvil, on which they can make even denser and harder materials.