January 6, 2023 at 12:49 pm

Scientists Discover the Toughest Material on Earth

by Ashley Dreiling

Scientists have recently confirmed that CrCoNi, a metallic alloy of chromium, cobalt, and nickel is the toughest stuff on the planet.

The compound is simultaneously incredibly strong (it resists deformation) and extremely ductile, or malleable. These two characteristics measure toughness, and CrCoNi gets even tougher under extreme conditions.

The study, conducted at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and published in the journal Science, began nearly a decade ago with a different metallic combination. They used one that contained extra manganese and iron (CrMnFeCoNi), but testing conditions were limited at that time. Impressively, CrMnFeCoNi withstood liquid nitrogen temperatures, but researchers wanted to push colder because the toughest metal must stand up to the most extreme environments.

With advanced technology, the team was able to test CrCoNi at even lower temperatures and found it got even tougher, rather than more brittle, as temperatures dropped.

Cold testing add media Scientists Discover the Toughest Material on Earth

Photo Credit: Pexels

“The toughness of this material near liquid helium temperatures (20 [degrees] Kelvin, -424 [degrees] Fahrenheit] is as high as 500 megapascals square root meters. In the same units, the toughness of a piece of silicon is one, the aluminum airframe in passenger airplanes is about 35, and the toughness of some of the best steels is around 100. So, 500, it’s a staggering number,” research co-leader Robert Ritchie said in a statement.

CrCoNi is now being developed for various applications, but given the high cost to create it, researchers predict this toughest of materials will get going – perhaps into deep space.

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