Carbyne could upset graphene as the strongest material in existence

Graphene, a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, has been the recent wunderkind of the material science world. It is the strongest material in existence and an amazing conductor of electricity and heat.

A recent paper preprint out of Rice University documents another form of carbon that could have even more impressive properties: carbyne. The pearl-like strings of single carbon atoms are theorized to be stronger than graphene, carbon nanotubes and diamonds. It’s been said that it would take an elephant balanced on a pencil to break through a sheet of graphene, so that’s pretty strong.

Carbyne has been known for decades, but this is the first time researchers have theorized a group of its properties when it is exposed to tension, bending and twisting, which help it take on its special properties. It is still theoretical because though scientists have succeeded at synthesizing short, single strands of carbyne, they haven’t been able to combine the strands to make a sheet of material. It’s suspected that if they did, the strands would explode.

That’s a shame, because it has some appealing features. The researchers theorize there could be a way around the explosion problem that allows carbyne to be stable at room temperature for several days. That means it could eventually be eligible for use in electronics. It is also twice as stiff as graphene but still able to bend.

Since graphene was first synthesized in the early 2000s, research has exploded. Considering scientists have already synthesized a single strand of carbyne, more serious advances could be coming soon.