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New carbon nanostructure is stronger than diamonds

20 April 2020

Researchers have closed-cell plate-nanolattices that are stronger than diamonds in terms of a ratio of strength to density.

(Image: Cameron Crook and Jens Bauer / UCI)

In a recent study in Nature Communications, the University of California scientists report success in conceptualising 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.

“Previous beam-based designs, while of great interest, had not been so efficient in terms of mechanical properties,” said corresponding author Jens Bauer, a UCI Researcher in Mechanical & Aerospace engineering.

“This new class of plate-nanolattices that we’ve created is dramatically stronger and stiffer than the best beam-nanolattices.”

According to the paper, 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.

Members of the architected materials laboratory of Lorenzo Valdevit, UCI Professor of Materials Science & Engineering as well as Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, verified their findings using a scanning electron microscope and other technologies provided by the Irvine Materials Research Institute.

“Scientists have predicted that nanolattices arranged in a plate-based design would be incredibly strong,” said lead author Cameron Crook, a UCI graduate student in materials science & engineering. 

“But the difficulty in manufacturing structures this way meant that the theory was never proven until we succeeded in doing it.”

Bauer said the team’s achievement rests on a complex 3D laser printing process called two-photon polymerisation direct laser writing. As a 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 can render periodic arrangements of cells, each consisting of assemblies of plates as thin as 160 nanometres.

One of the group’s innovations 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 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 nanometres, it approaches a theoretical crystal with no pores or cracks. Reducing these flaws increases the system’s overall strength,” he said.

Valdevit, who directs UCI’s Institute for Design and Manufacturing Innovation, added, “While the theoretical performance of these structures had been predicted before, we were the first group experimentally to validate that they could perform as well as predicted, while also demonstrating an architected material of unprecedented mechanical performance.”

Nanolattices hold great promise for structural engineers, particularly in aerospace, because it’s hoped that their combination of strength and low mass density will greatly enhance aircraft and spacecraft performance.


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