Diamond Nanothreads Show Wide-Ranging Potential

Ultra-thin Diamond nanothreads showed exceptional potential when first discovered, exhibiting impressive strength and stiffness, but they also proved to be particularly brittle. New research from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has solved the issue, making them flexible and thus unlocking significant and numerous potential applications.

No sparkle, but much potential

One-dimensional diamond nanothreads (DNT) resemble carbon nanotubes, not rock diamonds. Their name comes from the way in which carbon atoms are packed together, which is where the material’s strength comes from.

Researchers Haifei Zhan, Ph.D., has worked with DNT since their invention, modeling them through large-scale molecular dynamics simulations and high-performance computing. In his work, he discovered that the material’s brittleness could be conquered by relying on Stone-Wale transformation defects, which consists of incorporating kinks of hydrogen in the carbon’s hollow structure.

Zhan likens typical DNT to rigid brittle uncooked spaghetti, while those with Stone-Wale transformation defects he compares to supple, cooked spaghetti. The enhanced DNT can be bent and twisted or woven in ways that would simply be unthinkable with conventional DNT.

What’s more, the hingelike Stone-Wale defects can be spaced along the DNT to control various properties, such as thermal conductivity. Likewise, the flexibility of the material can also be controlled in this way, as well as by altering the atomic structure of the Stone-Wale defects. This allows DNT to essentially be customized to match the desired application, according to Zhan’s simulations.

Detailed findings and future goals

Zhan has published results from his DNT-modeling. For information on tuning the thermal conductivity of DNT, see his article in CarbonFor applications as a nanocomposite reinforcement, see his work in Advanced Function Materials. Zhan has also published findings in Carbon about how the mechanical properties of DNT, such as tensile behavior, vary with temperature and exact atomic structure. 

Future work includes research on the material’s viability as a fiber for textiles or rope, from bullet-proof vests and hard-wearing work gear to a replacement for steel cables in bridge construction.