Scientists Create the World's Hardest Glassy Material - AM-III

World’s Hardest Glass

A group of researchers in northern China has recently invented the world’s hardest glassy material – tentatively termed as AM-III – which can easily leave a deep scratch on a diamond’s surface and conducts electricity. (Amorphous Material) AM-III is a yellowish transparent material made completely of carbon and is the hardest of its type yet discovered with 113 gigapascals (GPa).

A natural diamond stone often scores 50 to 70 GPa, with some man-made pieces exceeding 100 GPa. A bulletproof window manufactured with the AM-III might be 20 to 100 times tougher than certain mainstream goods currently in use, while mass production could take years and the cost is unlikely to be cheap.

Procedure to Obtain The Material

Professor Tian Yongjun and his team from Yanshan University in Qinhuangdao created AM-III by crushing buckminsterfullerene, or C60, (a more advanced material made up of molecules that look like footballs but have a hollow structure made up of carbon atoms) and raising the pressure and temperature in the experimental chamber to 25 GPa and 1,200 degrees Celsius, respectively (2,192 degrees Fahrenheit).

The pre-print article states,

“Such extreme hardness allows the AM-III sample scratch the face of synthetic diamond crystal with Vickers hardness of 113 GPa.

The emergence of this type of ultrahard, ultrastrong, semiconducting AM carbon material offers excellent candidates to most demanding practical applications and calls-up for further experimental and theoretical exploration of the AM carbon allotropes.”

However, Tian’s team have generated the world’s hardest substance visible to the naked eye in 2013, a boron nitride crystal twice as hard as diamond (200 GPa), and the record currently remains. Meaning creating a very hard material is not difficult but creating a hard material that also displays other useful properties such as conductivity is more difficult in several aspects.

The team spent almost 12 hours gradually increasing the heat and pressure to the maximum and then letting the material cool down gently. Although there has been fierce rivalry to develop super-hard materials around the world, the AM-III is the result of multinational collaboration.

In China, scientists from Sweden, the United States, Germany, and Russia took part in the experiment. According to their article, these outside contributors assisted the Chinese team by coming up with fresh ideas and analyzing data.

A piece of 1mm-wide AM-III glass
A piece of 1mm-wide AM-III glass made a scratch on the surface of a natural diamond stone. Credit: National Science Review

Usage of AM-III in Industry

The glassy substance may not be as appealing as jewellery, but it has a wide range of possibilities in the hi-tech industry, according to researchers. The AM-III is a semiconductor that is nearly as efficient as silicon. And because of its capacity to transfer electric current at will, it’s a good candidate for use in photoelectric devices, such as guns, that must operate in harsh conditions like high pressure and temperatures.

Many strong materials have been developed by scientists. In principle, graphene can withstand pressures of more than 400 GPa. However, such strength occurs only when the material is only one atom thick. When numerous layers of graphene are stacked together, it becomes soft, conventional graphite.

As a result, many super-hard materials’ applications have been limited to a thin coating on the surface of another material. However, the AM-III can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes. Unlike diamond, which has some weak surfaces due to its atoms’ unique arrangement, the AM-III is hard all the way around.

According to the experts, these features will surely expand the possibility of its applications.

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