Do you know what the strongest material on Earth is? You probably guessed diamond right? Well, in some sense you are right. It is commonly referred to as the hardest natural substance on Earth. But, as with most things, this answer is vastly over simplified. First, hardness (and strength) is not a single property. Materials can be very strong in one way but not another. Some resist scratching better while others can absorb force better. And then there are new synthetic materials that combine many of these properties. So let’s get to it, these are the 25 strongest materials known to man!
This is the classic. Of course, keep in mind that in this case hardness refers to “scratch resistance”. In the Mohs scale (a qualitative scale that measures the resistance of various minerals) a diamond comes in at a 10 (the scale goes from 1 to 10 with 10 being the hardest). A diamond is so hard, that other diamonds have to be used to cut it.
Darwin bark spiders’ silk
Often referred to as the toughest biological substance in the world (though this claim is now being contested by another biological material), the Darwin bark spider’s web is stronger than steel and tougher than kevlar. Equally as remarkable is it’s weight. A strand long enough to encircle the Earth’s diameter would only weigh half a kilogram.
This synthetic foam is one of the lightest structural materials in the world. It’s about 75 times lighter than styrofoam (but a lot stronger!). This material can be compressed to a 30th of its original size without any damage to its structure. Another way of looking at it: aerographite can carry up to 40,000 times its own weight.
Palladium microalloy glass
Developed by scientists in California, this substance has almost the perfect combination of toughness and strength. The reason for this is that its chemical structure counteracts the brittleness of glass but still maintains its strength.
Tungsten carbide is incredibly hard and has really good yield strength, but it’s quite brittle when it is bent or smashed.
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This is the basic material used in battle tanks. Actually, it’s used in almost anything that deflects bullets, grinds, or refracts. It has a Mohs hardiness rating of 9 and also has a low thermal expansion.
Cubic boron nitride
Roughly as strong as diamond, cubic boron nitride has one major advantage…it is insoluble in nickel and iron at high temperatures. For this reason it can be used to machine those elements (diamond forms nitrides with iron and nickel at high temperatures).
It has been claimed to be the strongest fiber in the world. Perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that in spite of being lighter than water…it can stop bullets!
Titanium alloys are extremely flexible and have really high tensile strength, but aren’t quite as hard as steel alloys.
Developed at Caltech, this substance is very well rounded in terms of strength. It’s basically a jack of all trades but a master of none. It has high levels of hardness, tensile strength, and resistance to fatigue.
Made out of wood pulp, this new wonder material is stronger than steel! It’s also cheaper. In fact, Nanocellulose has been considered as a less expensive alternative to glass and carbon fiber.
Earlier we mentioned how the Darwin bark spider’s web was one of the strongest biological materials on Earth. However, Limpet teeth are proving to be even stronger than spider webs. The teeth of limpets (aquatic snails) are extremely tough. They need to be, because they are used to remove algae from rock surfaces. Scientists believe that in the future, we could copy the fibrous structure of limpet teeth and use it in cars, boats, and even aircrafts.
This substance combines extreme strength and toughness without losing malleability. It finds many uses in aerospace and tooling technologies.
An extremely dense element, osmium is used for things that require a high level of durability and hardness (electrical contacts, fountain tip pens, etc).
Used in everything from drumheads to bullet proof vests, kevlar is almost synonymous with hardness. Kevlar is a type of plastic that has extremely high tensile strength. In fact, it’s tensile strength is roughly 8 times that of a steel wire! It can also withstand temperatures of around 450℃.
High-performance polyethylene is basically really strong plastic. This lightweight, strong thread can withstand an incredible amount of tension and is ten times stronger than steel (pound per pound). Similar to kevlar, Spectra is also used for ballistic-resistant vests, helmets, and armored vehicles.
As an allotrope of carbon, a one atom thick sheet is 200 times stronger than steel. Although it looks like saran wrap…good luck busting through it. You’d have to balance a school bus on top of a pencil on top of the graphene in order to poke a hole in the sheet!
This nanotechnology is made of carbon tubes that are 50,000 times thinner than human hair. This explains why it’s 10 times lighter than steel, but 500 times stronger.
The world’s lightest metal, metallic microlattice is also one of the lightest structural materials on Earth. Some claim that it is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam! As a synthetic and porous, yet extremely strong material it has uses in many fields of engineering. Boeing has mentioned using it in the fabrication of planes, mainly in the flooring, seat frames, and walls.
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are in simple terms “seamless cylindrical hollow fibers” that are made up of a single sheet of pure graphite. The result is an extremely light material. At the nano scale, carbon nanotubes have exhibited strengths of 200 times that of steel.
Also known as graphene aerogel, imagine the toughness of graphene combined with unimaginable lightness. You can’t imagine it can you? Well, let’s make it even more unimaginable…it’s 7 times lighter than air! This incredible material can recover completely after more than 90% compression and can absorb up to 900 times its own weight in oil. There’s hope that this material could be used to mop up oil spills.
As of yet unnamed substance under development at MIT
As of this writing, scientists at MIT believe they have found the secret to maximizing graphene’s 2 dimensional strength in 3 dimensions. Their as of yet unnamed substance may have roughly 5% the density of steel but 10 times the strength.
In spite of just being a single chain of atoms, carbyne has twice the tensile strength of graphene and three times the stiffness of diamond.
Wurtzite boron nitride
This natural substance is produced under the intensity of volcanic explosions and is 18% harder than diamond. It is one of only two naturally occurring substances that have recently been found to exceed diamonds in terms of hardness. The problem is that there isn’t much of this substance out there and it is hard to actually test it.
Also known as hexagonal diamond, this substance is also made of carbon atoms, but they are just arranged differently. Along with wurtzite boron nitride it is one of two natural substances that are harder than diamond. In fact, it is 58% harder! As with the previous substance, however, it is in relatively short supply. It is sometimes formed when meteorites containing graphite impact the Earth.
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