Hardest Material on Earth – Wurtzite Boron Nitride Vs Diamond

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While diamonds have long been known as the hardest naturally occurring substance on Earth, they do break and crumble at high enough pressures. So, scientists have been searching for a material that can withstand even more force than a diamond can. In the past, their efforts had focused on carbon-based materials such as diamonds and graphite. One of the most promising candidates was boron nitride, a synthetic mineral first made in 1957. Using a process similar to the way that manufacturers make artificial diamonds, boron nitride is created by placing coarse-grit polycrystalline structure powders under intense heat and pressure until they form a solid mass.

However, it turns out that pure boron nitride (wurtzite boron nitride or c-BN) is not as hard as scientists had previously thought. A new study has simulated how the atoms in wurtzite boron boron nitride and the rare mineral lonsdaleite would respond to stress, and found that both of these materials could sustain 18 percent more force than a diamond can.

When the researchers put wurtzite boron and lonsdaleite under compressive forces, they observed that the bonding between atoms in these two materials flipped. This resulted in a significant increase in the material’s strength, with wurtzite boron reaching an indentation strength of 114 gigapascals — well above diamond’s 97 GPa.

Lonsdaleite, on the other hand, achieved an indentation strength of 152 GPa, leaving diamond far behind at just 18 percent stronger. Scientists are now planning to test these two materials physically in order to verify the simulation results, but either way, it looks like wurtzite and lonsdaleite have a good chance of displacing diamond as the world’s hardest natural material.

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