Strongest Material Ever Found in Atom-Thick Carbyne Chains
The strongest material ever could be carbyne, atom-thick chains of carbon, according to theoretical calculations by Rice University Physicists. The big question is now if and when anyone can make it in bulk.
Carbyne is a chain of carbon atoms held together by either double or alternating single and triple atomic bonds. That makes it a true one-dimensional material, unlike atom-thin sheets of graphene, which have a top and a bottom, or hollow nanotubes, which have an inside and outside.
These carbyne nanorods or nanoropes, if they can be made, would have a host of remarkable and useful properties, as described in a new paper by Rice University theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson and his group:
- Carbyne’s tensile strength — the ability to withstand stretching — surpasses “that of any other known material” and is double that of graphene. (Scientists have calculated it would take an elephant on a pencil to break through a sheet of graphene.)
- It has twice the tensile stiffness of graphene and carbon nanotubes and nearly three times that of diamond.
- Stretching carbyne as little as 10 percent alters its electronic band gap significantly.
- If outfitted with molecular handles at the ends, it can also be twisted to alter its band gap. With a 90-degree end-to-end rotation, it becomes a magnetic semiconductor.
- Carbyne chains can take on side molecules that may make the chains suitable for energy storage.
- The material is stable at room temperature, largely resisting crosslinks with nearby chains.
“You could look at it as an ultimately thin graphene ribbon, reduced to just one atom, or an ultimately thin nanotube,” Yakobson said.. It could be useful for nanomechanical systems, in spintronic devices, as sensors, as strong and light materials for mechanical applications, or for energy storage.
Based on the calculations, he said carbyne might be the highest energy state for stable carbon.
Theories about carbyne first appeared in the 19th century, and an approximation of the material was first synthesized in the USSR in 1960. Carbyne has since been seen in compressed graphite, has been detected in interstellar dust, and has been created in small quantities by experimentalists.
Yakobson said the researchers were surprised to find that the band gap in carbyne was so sensitive to twisting. “It will be useful as a sensor for torsion or magnetic fields, if you can find a way to attach it to something that will make it twist,” he said.
Another finding of great interest was the energy barrier that keeps atoms on adjacent carbyne chains from collapsing into each other. “When you’re talking about theoretical material, you always need to be careful to see if it will react with itself,” Artyukhov said. “This has never really been investigated for carbyne.”
“Bundles might stick to each other, but they wouldn’t collapse completely,” Yakobson added. “That could make for a highly porous, random net that may be good for adsorption.”
Rice graduate student Fangbo Xu and former postdoctoral researcher Hoonkyung Lee, now a professor at Konkuk University in South Korea, are co-authors of the paper. Yakobson is Rice’s Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, a professor of chemistry and a member of the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Welch Foundation supported the research. Calculations were performed on the National Science Foundation-supported DaVinCI supercomputer, administered by Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology.
Mingjie Liu et al., Carbyne from First Principles: Chain of C Atoms, a Nanorod or a Nanorope, ACS Nano, 2013, DOI: 10.1021/nn404177r