We Might Be Able to Build a Space Elevator Made of Microscopic Threads of Diamonds

Thursday, 19 November 2015 - 2:47PM
Thursday, 19 November 2015 - 2:47PM
We Might Be Able to Build a Space Elevator Made of Microscopic Threads of Diamonds
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This might be the prettiest proposal for a space elevator yet. Scientists from the Queensland University of Technology have found that microscopic chains, or "nanothreads" of diamonds have the potential to build extremely strong architectures, and could be prime candidates to make a space elevator possible.

When humans explore space, they are extremely hampered by the necessity to return to Earth for supplies or send re-supply missions. One long-theorized solution for this problem is the space elevator, or a 60,000-mile ribbon cable that is anchored to the Earth at its equator and extends all the way into space. The tether would be held in place by competing forces that are stronger at the respective ends- gravity at the lower end and the centrifugal force at the upper end- and would allow for vehicles to be transported directly into space without the use of rockets.

But because Earth's gravity is so strong, the cable would have to made of extremely strong material, so strong that no known material fits the bill. Graphene, which is essentially a two-dimensional chain of carbon, has been touted as the new strongest material on Earth, but recently, researchers have proposed another carbon-based material for uses such as the space elevator: diamonds.

Last year, researchers at Penn State University found that applying an enormous amount of pressure on benzene yielded tiny diamond nanothreads, or atom chains that are composed of the same material that makes up diamonds. Although diamonds are known to be the hardest known natural material on Earth, it was unconfirmed whether these diamond chains could be used to build a strong material. But according to the most recent study, which modeled large-scale architectures made with these nanothreads, the material can be used to build extremely strong, yet flexible structures, making it a prime candidate for applications like the space elevator.

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"Its highly tunable ductility together with its ultra-light density and high Young's modulus makes diamond nanothread ideal for the creation of extremely strong three-dimensional nano-architectures," the authors wrote in their paper.
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Although the concept of a space elevator was first proposed in 1895, it may not be so far-fetched. Google recently admitted that some of their brightest minds had attempted a space elevator project, but were unable to construct the cable because they didn't have a strong enough material. Perhaps that problem is now solved, and they'll be able to bring that project back to life.

Via Motherboard.