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When it comes to the hardness of materials, diamonds are often the first that come to mind. However, there are many other material types that are harder than diamonds. The hardness of any material is a measure of its resistance to external forces.
Although diamonds are the hardest naturally occurring mineral on earth, researchers have long sought to create a stronger version of the stone. Recently, a research team from North Carolina State University found a promising new material. This material is called lonsdaleite.
Lonsdaleite is a carbon-based alloy that is structurally very similar to a diamond. It is 58 percent harder than a jewel, and is known to be one of the strongest substances ever measured.
Scientists believe that lonsdaleite was formed in a meteorite strike in Africa. After the impact, shock waves transformed small graphite disks into hexagonal diamonds. These disks were about the size of a dime. They were launched with gunpowder and compressed gas, and impacted at speeds of up to 15,000 miles per hour.
Researchers have now developed a method for turning lonsdaleite into a more crystalline structure. In this process, boron nitride is replaced by carbon. While the new material is not a perfect copy of lonsdaleite, it has a strong indentation strength and chemical stability.
A similar method was used by scientists in Germany to test the hardness of wurtzite boron nitride. It is a material that has a hexagonal crystal structure. Like lonsdaleite, it has boron and nitrogen, but its directional arrangements of bonds are different.