The quest for stronger and tougher materials has led scientists to the discovery of the BC8 carbon phase, predicted to be even more resilient than diamond. This eight-atom body-centered cubic (BC8) crystal is not only structurally similar to diamond but also exhibits a 30% greater resistance to compression. Despite the theoretical predictions of its existence, the challenge lies in synthesizing BC8 under ambient conditions here on Earth.

Recent astrophysical observations have hinted at the presence of carbon-rich exoplanets, where extreme pressures exceeding millions of atmospheres exist in their deep interiors. It is in these hostile environments that structural forms of carbon, including diamond and BC8, are believed to be formed. Understanding the properties of the BC8 carbon phase becomes crucial for accurately modeling the interiors of these mysterious celestial bodies.

BC8 is not just limited to carbon but is also a high-pressure phase of silicon and germanium, recoverable to ambient conditions. The tetrahedral shape of the four-nearest-neighbor atoms in the BC8 structure, similar to diamond, contributes to its potential toughness. Without the cleavage planes present in diamond, BC8 is theorized to be a much harder material. With the possibility of stability at ambient conditions, the quest for creating a super-diamond has never been more promising.

Through advanced atomic molecular-dynamics simulations on the world’s fastest exascale supercomputer, the extreme metastability of diamond at high pressures has been revealed. The team’s breakthrough in developing accurate machine-learning interatomic potential has allowed for precise simulations of billions of carbon atoms under extreme conditions. The post-diamond BC8 phase is predicted to be accessible only within a narrow range of high-pressure and high-temperature conditions, shedding light on previous experimental challenges faced in synthesizing BC8.

The significance of these findings transcends mere scientific curiosity. Not only do they provide insights into the limitations of past experiments in observing BC8, but they also pave the way for viable compression pathways to access this elusive carbon phase. Collaborative efforts are underway to explore these theoretical pathways, with the dream of one day growing a BC8 super-diamond in a laboratory setting. The pursuit of BC8 continues to intrigue and inspire scientists worldwide, offering a glimpse of the limitless potential of carbon-based materials.

Chemistry

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