John V Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn, said: “One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials we are developing is that they could be used to make the super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible the construction of a “space elevator”, which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea.”
The discovery shows that the nanothreads include a long strand of carbon atomswhich resemble the fundamental unit of a diamond.
Badding said: “It is as if an incredible jeweller has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace. Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect it will prove to be extraordinarily stuff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful.”
The threads are extremely small and only a few atoms across.
Apart from the wild dream of producing an elevator between earth and the moon, more practical applications include materials in vehicles that are lighter, more fuel efficient and so less polluting.
One obstacle is that high pressure needed to produce the diamond nanothreads limit production to only a few cubic millimetres at a time.