They say it could be an ultra-tough coating for spacecraft.

Hard Rock

A team of scientists has developed a substance so tough that it can go toe to toe with diamonds, which are considered the hardest naturally occurring substance on Earth — a discovery they say could pave the way for its use in everything from spaceships to cars.

The scientists — hailing from North America, Europe, and Russia — synthesized a particular variety of the organic semiconductor carbon nitride, as detailed in their findings published in the science journal Advanced Materials. What's interesting about this type of carbon nitride is that scientists discovered that it's harder than cubic boron nitride, a crystalline compound, that's second only to diamonds in terms of hardness.

Another interesting wrinkle about this variety of carbon nitride, which is made up of carbon and nitrogen, is that theoretical physicists back in 1989 predicted that a compound like it could exist, and that it could rival diamonds in terms of hardness. Scientists long tried and failed to create this fabled substance, but now they appear to have finally pulled it off.

"Upon the discovery of the first of these new carbon nitride materials, we were incredulous to have produced materials researchers have been dreaming of for the last three decades," said the study's first author and University of Edinburgh physicist Dominique Laniel in a statement. "These materials provide strong incentive to bridge the gap between high pressure materials synthesis and industrial applications."

Diamond Age

Also like diamonds, the scientists synthesized this carbon nitride by using extreme pressure and blasting it with high temperatures. At normal atmospheric conditions and room temperature, crucially, it retained its extreme durability.

The scientists envision that production for this type of carbon nitride could be potentially scaled up and used to coat spaceships and vehicles, be used in solar panels, or even cutting and drilling tools.

Diamonds are used in countless applications, from drill bits to engagement rings. But scientists have long sought to synthesize or discover a substance harder than diamonds, both because it presents an irresistible challenge in chemistry and because new materials can push new frontiers.

More on minerals: China Says It's Discovered a Cache of a Strange New Ore

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