Humans traveling to space have traditionally needed to have supplies sent to them from Earth. This requires the launching of rockets to space, which is very costly. Scientists around the world have been working on designing an elevator to transport humans and cargo to space.
The space elevator concept calls for a 60,000-mile cable anchored at the Earth’s equator and extending up into space. Gravity at the lower end and centrifugal force at the upper end would hold the cable in place and allow vehicles to travel into space without the need for rockets. Creating a material that is strong enough and could be made into a long enough cable has been a challenge.
One design that may seem far-fetched but might be feasible involves using diamonds. Researchers at Penn State University discovered that applying enormous pressure to benzene with a machine called a Paris-Edinburgh device produced tiny diamond nanothreads, or chains of atoms made of the same carbon crystals that make up diamonds and are just as strong.
So far, the diamond nanothreads have only been produced by the lab at Penn State. It is unclear whether scientists would be able to mass produce them. There are also concerns that the nanothreads could get brittle as they become longer.
A team at Queensland University of Technology recently completed a modeling study that showed that inserting molecular defects into a repetitive benzene ring structure of a diamond nanothread causes the fiber to become highly ductile. The researchers believe that the right molecular design could allow them to create extremely strong three-dimensional nano-architectures. The structures could potentially be used in many applications, including nanotechnology, electronics, and possibly even a space elevator.