A new substance, unlike any on Earth, could have one of the highest melting points we’ve ever seen, theoretically withstanding temperatures of more than 7,460 degrees Fahrenheit.
To put that into perspective, this is about 180F warmer than the liquid iron and nickel outer core of Earth, about 2/3 the temperature of the surface of the sun, and almost 360F higher than the current record holder of the highest experimentally-recorded melting point — the temperature at which a substance turns from a solid into a liquid.
That is, however, if the team can successfully synthesise it. There is no other compound like this on Earth, and it doesn’t occur naturally, study researcher Axel van de Walle, of Brown University, told Tech Insider in an email.
These types of materials are tricky to study in a lab given that, well, you’d have to replicate mind-bogglingly scorching temperatures — think surface of the sun hot — to understand their heat-resistant properties. So scientists rely on computers to simulate what would happen to different combinations of substances under a variety of conditions.
By taking a page from the current record holder of the highest experimentally-recorded melting point, a mixture of the three elements hafnium, tantalum, and carbon, the team figured that they could find an even better atomical arrangement to make a more heat-resistant substance.
After analysing the record-holder’s quantum mechanical properties, the team probed other compounds that might have the same but possibly stronger heat-resistant capabilities.
And they found such a substance — or more accurately, they found an optimal arrangement — made of the following elements: hafnium, nitrogen, and carbon.
While nitrogen and carbon are common and abundant on our planet, the lesser-known element hafnium — the shiny, silver metal that was discovered in 1923 — is the 45th most abundant element in Earth’s crust.
“It’s not common enough to make cars out of it, but common enough for specialised aerospace applications,” van de Walle told us. “It’s 100 times cheaper than gold.”
If their powerful computational approach checks out, this substance would shatter the current world record by 360F.
“Melting point is a really difficult prediction problem compared to what has been done before,” co-author Axel van de Walle said in a press release. “For the modelling community, I think that’s what is special about this.”
The team and their other collaborators have secured the resources to begin making the substance — the next step in the process. They hope to make something within the next year or so, van de Walle told Tech Insider.
And its applications could be endless — from heat shields on hypersonic vehicles to coatings for jet engines.
This type of work in general could contribute to a new class of high-performance materials, though it’s not clear whether the compound itself will be a useful material, according to a press release.
But as for now, it won’t get us set on a journey to the sun. But we can still dream.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.