Diamonds have been dethroned. Long believed to be the hardest material around, researchers at the University of Bayreuth in Germany have just made something even harder: aggregated diamond nanorods.
Aggregated diamond nanorods (ADNRs) are created by subjecting carbon-60 molecules (aka buckyballs) to immense pressures and heat -- 200 times atmospheric pressure and 2500 Kelvin. The resulting material has an "isothermal bulk modulus" (the technical measure of hardness) of 491 gigapascals, compared to 442 gigapascals for regular diamond.
The material will have commercial applications (generally to do things that diamonds already do, but better), but its biggest impact will be symbolic: the notion that diamonds are the "hardest material on Earth" has long been an eternal verity. Now they've been beaten by something from the lab, a super-compressed buckyball. What's next -- the certainty of death and taxes?
Also check out this great story from Wired about synthetic diamonds (2003):
I wondered if such advances might enable the capture of geothermal energy from volcanoes and other such hotspots. If diamond pipes can pump down water to be converted to steam or something. Not sure exactly, just a thought