Anyone irritated by the hype about graphene may become somewhat apoplectic as a result of recent reports about carbyne.
Carbyne is yet another allotrope of carbon like buckyballs, nanotubes and graphene, but is predicted to be “stronger than both graphene and diamond, and around twice as stiff as the stiffest known materials.” However in common with graphene, buckyballs and nanotubes it is a material that is rather tricky to make and with no known applications.
The report causing the excitement in Nature Materials does in fact caution that the “results establish a route for the bulk production of exceptionally long and stable chains composed of more than 6,000 carbon atoms, representing an elegant forerunner towards the final goal of carbyne’s bulk production.” That refers to long chains of carbyne and is not the same as claiming that “we can produce carbyne in bulk so we’ll have carbine space craft within a decade,” as the reported synthesis takes place inside double walled nanotubes (some thing South West Nanotechnologies and others went bust trying to make in bulk). Given that it will take a few thousand dollars worth of double walled nanotubes to create a gram of carbine which may or may not prove to be particularly stable, I wouldn’t expect it to hop out off the lab and into the real world anytime soon.
But the synthesis of carbyne is a good illustration of why basic science needs to be well funded and demonstrates how the huge amount of funding going into nanoscience over the past 15 years is enabling the creation of a wide range of new materials and building blocks. Many of these, like buckyballs, will be scientific curiosities, but others may indeed change the world.