Carbon Nanostructure Stronger than Diamond By Strength to Density

Researchers have architecturally designed plate-nanolattices – nanometer-sized carbon structures – that are stronger than diamonds as a ratio of strength to density.

The team’s design has been shown to improve on the average performance of cylindrical beam-based architectures by up to 639 percent in strength and 522 percent in rigidity.

They designed and fabricating the material, which consists of closely connected, closed-cell plates instead of the cylindrical trusses common in such structures over the past few decades.

They used complex 3D laser printing process called two-photon polymerization direct laser writing. The laser is focused inside a droplet of an ultraviolet-light-sensitive liquid resin, the material becomes a solid polymer where molecules are simultaneously hit by two photons. By scanning the laser or moving the stage in three dimensions, the technique is able to render periodic arrangements of cells, each consisting of assemblies of plates as thin as 160 nanometers.

An important innovation was to include tiny holes in the plates that could be used to remove excess resin from the finished material. As a final step, the lattices go through pyrolysis, in which they’re heated to 900 degrees Celsius in a vacuum for one hour. According to Bauer, the end result is a cube-shaped lattice of glassy carbon that has the highest strength scientists ever thought possible for such a porous material.

Bauer said that another goal and accomplishment of the study was to exploit the innate mechanical effects of the base substances. “As you take any piece of material and dramatically decrease its size down to 100 nanometers, it approaches a theoretical crystal with no pores or cracks. Reducing these flaws increases the system’s overall strength,” he said.

The strength and low mass density will greatly enhance aircraft and spacecraft performance.

Synthesis of nanolattices from mechanically strong and stiff ceramics or metals requires sophisticated multi-step processes that are complicated to apply to closed-cell topologies and have, so far, mostly been limited to non-optimal beam-lattice designs. High-resolution 3D additive manufacturing processes are generally limited to viscoelastic polymers, but demonstration of nanolattice performance at the Hashin-Shtrikman upper bound requires linear elastic material properties like those of ceramics and metals. Ceramic and metallic nanolattices are manufacturable by conversion1 from polymer templates such as those printed by TPP-DLW. However, closed-cell designs impose process restrictions, complicating the adoption of atomic-layer-deposited ceramics as well as electroless and electro-plated metals, even for the synthesis of composites where templates are not removed. Pyrolysis is the only alternative, and requires structures to be fabricated such that they survive extreme linear shrinkage of up to 90%.

They overcame several critical manufacturing challenges, leading to fabrication of highly efficient virtually closed-cell ceramic plate-topologies. As with most additive manufacturing techniques, TPP-DLW-printing of fully enclosed cellular geometries results in trapped excess liquid monomer and/or rupture of thin membranes during post-print development. We show that nanometer-size pores are sufficient to eliminate residual monomer from assemblies of even tens of micrometer-size cells, while retaining mechanical performance on par with fully closed cell topologies. In contrast to TPP-DLW-derived beam-nanolattices, plate-nanolattices cannot simply be printed from individual line features in one three-dimensional trajectory pattern. To address this challenge, they developed an orientation-specific layer-by-layer hatching strategy to combine the highest surface quality with smallest possible wall thicknesses, and fully exploited size-dependent strengthening of the constituent material.

Material properties of hatched TPP-DLW-derived structures are highly sensitive to printing parameters, thus, carefully selected combinations of laser average power, scan speed and hatching distances were adopted herein to ensure identical constituent properties throughout our nanoarchitected material. To demonstrate property uniformity, for each plate orientation, micro-Raman spectroscopy measured nearly identical degree of conversion (DC) of pre-pyrolysis polymeric structures and nearly identical degree of graphitization (DG) for all pyrolytic carbon structures.

While plate-lattices clearly outperform beam-lattices in the higher relative density range, our results reveal a tradeoff between performance and manufacturability at lower relative densities.

The combination of an optimal topology at the HS and Suquet upper bounds, and ultra-high strength nanoscale constituent pyrolytic carbon, makes our plate-nanolattices the only cellular material to lie above the theoretical specific strength limit for all bulk materials, as well as outperform all other architected materials in stiffness. Beam-lattices, such as the octet truss, in practice perform on the order of 25 and 20% of the HS and Suquet upper bounds, respectively; which is in good agreement with the found five-fold and six-fold improvement, respectively, of our plate-nanolattices over TPP-DLW-derived pyrolytic carbon octet truss and isotropic truss nanolattices23 in the density range of 0.35–0.79 g/cm³.

Nature Communications – Plate-nanolattices at the theoretical limit of stiffness and strength

Though beam-based lattices have dominated mechanical metamaterials for the past two decades, low structural efficiency limits their performance to fractions of the Hashin-Shtrikman and Suquet upper bounds, i.e. the theoretical stiffness and strength limits of any isotropic cellular topology, respectively. While plate-based designs are predicted to reach the upper bounds, experimental verification has remained elusive due to significant manufacturing challenges. Here, we present a new class of nanolattices, constructed from closed-cell plate-architectures. Carbon plate-nanolattices are fabricated via two-photon lithography and pyrolysis and shown to reach the Hashin-Shtrikman and Suquet upper bounds, via in situ mechanical compression, nano-computed tomography and micro-Raman spectroscopy. Demonstrating specific strengths surpassing those of bulk diamond and average performance improvements up to 639% over the best beam-nanolattices, this study provides detailed experimental evidence of plate architectures as a superior mechanical metamaterial topology.

SOURCES – Crook, C., Bauer, J., Guell Izard, A. et al. Plate-nanolattices at the theoretical limit of stiffness and strength. Nat Commun 11, 1579 (2020)., University pf California, Irvine
Written By Brian Wang,

13 thoughts on “Carbon Nanostructure Stronger than Diamond By Strength to Density”

  1. Breakthrough Starshot could test it’s ability to protect a craft traveling at relativistic speeds.
    Next step after that, Lighthuggers, assuming replication of a Conjoiner drive will not be a problem.

    Ultranauts are way cooler than astronauts, cosmonauts or taikonauts.

  2. This is tinkering at basic research level. It is way premature to consider applications. I think people rush to find an application for any basic research platform. As an investor in these things (not this particular insight), I’ve learned to let the nerds (endearing term for me) tinker without asking “why” or “what can it be used for”. The more fiddling around, the better the results.

    For this experiment, it could be that the underlying material is useless commercially, but there could be insights to new manufacturing techniques. Who knows. The VC world has too many bean counters who think everything is a business model.

  3. Construction is the last application that this may have. The harsh environmental and assembly requirements you’ve mentioned are part of the reason, but also because of scale and price constraints. Construction materials need to be available in very large quantities and at a low price. It will take a long time to meet all of these requirements.

  4. Nah. I need tensile strength, ductility, and resistance to fracture; along with ease of assembly (weld, bolt, adhere) on site if we want to get those bridge spans longer/ towers higher. Its one thing to have factory-assembly/ protected conditions for these precious materials – but get those thing into a 100-year service life with salt, -35C wind chill, vibration, 75K temp variations within 12 hours, and the occasional aircraft impact 😉

  5. Scale it up to what scale?

    That’s the real question: What is the minimum size at which you have useful applications?

  6. Reminds of me of “hyperdiamond” material from the Revelation Space series.

    Hyperdiamond was an artificial substance of extreme durability made by interweaving tubular fullerene, forming a structure similar to cellulose or chitin.

    Sounds close to what they did doesn’t it? xD

    Oh science fiction, you becoming science too fast xD

  7. History suggests that radical new materials are usually used first in aerospace, sporting equipment, and/or musical instruments (probably generalizes to art in general).

    In those three cases, we have situations were only super marginal improvements can justify significantly higher costs (and the first implementation of new tech will mostly involve higher costs).

  8. This is actually quite a positive thing, I believe. I’ve always found ultra sense and efficient materials fascinating; properties of various metamaterial, etc. When this can scale up– if it can- it’ll be very useful. Possibly in all kinds of things, exempli gratia, aerospace, maybe?

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