8 of the Strongest Materials Known to Man
The world is full of remarkable substances, many of which are used to enrich our lives to an incomprehensible extent. Moreover, few of us actually stop to think about the specific materials that benefit the human experience, from home construction to medical care. However, over the centuries, selecting materials in terms of strength and durability has been a vital necessity. As such, here are some of the strongest materials in the world, both artificial and naturally occurring.
When we think of the strongest materials in the world, diamond is often one of the first substances that spring to mind. On The Mohs Scale of Hardness, diamond sits right at the top with a hardness of ten, 58 times harder than the world’s second-hardest mineral, corundum. Due to their durability and scarcity, diamond is also a remarkably expensive material, making it a sought-after component for jewellery-making, as well as industrial abrasives for cutting other hard materials.
Although spider webs look and feel profoundly delicate, dragline silk has a tensile strength of roughly 1.3 GPa, making it five times as strong as the same weight of steel. Although we don’t tend to use spider silk for daily life, scientists have used it to create a number of things, including bulletproof armour, violin strings and even medical bandages. In fact, human beings have been using spider silk for medicinal purposes for thousands of years - it is thought that the ancient Greeks used cobwebs to stop wounds from bleeding.
Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms tightly bound in a hexagonal honeycomb-like lattice. Graphene is an artificial substance produced in a UK laboratory in 2004 by Russian-born scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for the University of Manchester. The discovery of graphene, a substance 200 times stronger than steel, won Geim and Novoselov the Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work. Due to its versatile and unique properties, graphene has already been used in transport, medicine, electronics, energy and more.
Metallic glass has a potential high tensile strength of 2,100 MPa (300 ksi). Metallic glass comprises the strength of steel and the malleability of plastic to create a robust and lightweight material widely used in the medical-surgical field for items such as biocompatible bone implants and cardiovascular stents. The world’s first metallic glass was made in 1960 from gold and silicon. However, other variants are made by rapidly cooling alloys, consisting of various metals such as iron, titanium, copper, and magnesium.
Steel is one of the world’s strongest and most commonly used construction materials. Hard-wearing, weather resistant and infinitely recyclable, this incredible material has a seemingly infinite list of uses, from medical equipment to robust commercial steel buildings. Steel owes its strength to the fact that it is, indeed, an alloy consisting of iron and carbon, thus, improving stability and hardness due to being made up of multiple fused elements, increasing resistance to deformation.
Tungsten is the strongest of any natural metal, with a high melting point of 3410°C and an ultimate tensile strength of 980 MPa. Due to its high impact resistance, tungsten is commonly used in alloys such as high-speed steel (HSS) to manufacture various cutting tools like power saw blades and drill bits. Furthermore, due to its durability, tungsten is commonly used in jewellery-making, particularly for everyday items like wedding rings, as an affordable alternative to gold and platinum.
Silicon carbide, a synthetically produced crystalline compound of silicon and carbon, is a semiconductor base material commonly used in the production of bulletproof vests, machinery and engine components. With a Mohs hardness rating of 9, this compound is remarkably hard and robust and is considered one of the most durable semiconductor materials on the market. Discovered by American inventor Edward G. Acheson in 1891, silicon carbide, often referred to as a 'Super Hard Ceramic', is more than four times harder than stainless steel.
Kevlar is a heat-resistant para-aramid synthetic fibre discovered by Polish-American chemist Stephanie Kwolek in a polymer research lab in 1964. Kevlar’s chemical structure comprises several repeating interchain bonds, culminating in a tensile strength ten times greater than steel of the same weight. Bullet and knife-resistant, Kevlar is commonly used in the arms industry - in fact, the US military has been using Kevlar fibre to produce body armour and flak jackets since the 1970s.