A group of researchers has discovered that a special metallic alloy consisting of chromium, cobalt, and nickel is the toughest material on Earth. Based on experiments and tests, as well as findings published in the journal Science, the alloy is more than 100 times stronger than graphene, which is often considered a “wonder material.”
To test the strength of the newly named toughest material on Earth, the researchers subjected it to extremely cold temperatures. Usually, metals and alloys tend to crack or fracture when the temperature is lowered too much. However, they found that this alloy became more robust and more resistant to fracturing as the temperatures dropped.
As noted above, many materials become brittle and easily fracture when the temperatures start to drop. It’s part of why cold temperatures are such a danger to exposed pipes during the winter. However, this particular alloy did the opposite. Further, as the toughest material on Earth, its toughness is hundreds of times higher than the aluminum alloys used in aircraft.
The potential of material this strong is, obviously, mind-blowing. Not only could it allow for stronger spacecraft infrastructure, but it could be used in fracture-resistant containers that store clean energy for use later on. Unfortunately, making use of the toughest material on Earth would be expensive for such endeavors, which is why it’s likely to be limited for the foreseeable future, experts note.
Now, it is important to note that this specific alloy isn’t exactly new. It’s been used for decades in mechanical parts. However, this new study has demonstrated unknown properties that researchers weren’t yet aware of, according to their findings. The toughest material on Earth, they say, is also what scientists refer to as a high entropy alloy (HEA).
An HEA is essentially an extremely malleable alloy, meaning that it is able to bend under pressure to help withstand fracturing. To test the malleability, the researchers exposed the material to temperatures of around minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit, according to LiveScience. They continued to push the toughest material on Earth even further, bringing it to 424 degrees Fahrenheit using liquid helium.
Of course, this alloy isn’t the only tough material we have here on Earth. Graphene is also extremely strong, though not nearly as strong when held under low temperatures. It is light, though, and has even played a part in MIT’s quest to create the strongest, lightest material known to humankind. Scientists have also found a mineral that is stronger than diamonds, too.