Approaching theoretical strength in glassy carbon nanolattices

Nat Mater. 2016 Apr;15(4):438-43. doi: 10.1038/nmat4561. Epub 2016 Feb 1.


The strength of lightweight mechanical metamaterials, which aim to exploit material-strengthening size effects by their microscale lattice structure, has been limited by the resolution of three-dimensional lithography technologies and their restriction to mainly polymer resins. Here, we demonstrate that pyrolysis of polymeric microlattices can overcome these limitations and create ultra-strong glassy carbon nanolattices with single struts shorter than 1 μm and diameters as small as 200 nm. They represent the smallest lattice structures yet produced--achieved by an 80% shrinkage of the polymer during pyrolysis--and exhibit material strengths of up to 3 GPa, corresponding approximately to the theoretical strength of glassy carbon. The strength-to-density ratios of the nanolattices are six times higher than those of reported microlattices. With a honeycomb topology, effective strengths of 1.2 GPa at 0.6 g cm(-3) are achieved. Diamond is the only bulk material with a notably higher strength-to-density ratio.