A team of scientists just strung a tone of the world's smallest diamonds into superstrong nanothreads. That makes for one impressive (and basically invisible) necklace, but the applications of these nanothreads don't end there. They could someday help string up an elevator to space—just like in science fiction.
A research team lead by John Badding, a Penn State chemistry professor, just published a paper in Nature Materials that details how they compressed benzene into almost impossibly small zig-zag cyclohexane rings of carbon atoms, also known as diamonds. "It is as if an incredible jeweler has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace," Badding said in a release. "Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful."
And how exactly will it be useful? Well, one hope is that this new, ultra light, super-strong wonder material could be used to make extremely fuel-efficient vehicles. But that's nothing compared to the sci-fi dream that the researchers are really hoping to make come true. "One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials we are developing," Badding added, "is that they could be used to make the super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible the construction of a 'space elevator' which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea."
Of course the mad, micro-diamond-minting scientists have not yet built a space elevator, and they aren't even sure they'd be able to. They just really want to, and maybe these nanothreads will be the ticket to making it happen. They'd better hurry, though. Otherwise, Japan will beat them to the punch. [Penn State]