Rice researchers (l-r) Robert Vajtai, Enrique Barrera, and Sehmus Ozden at the two-stage gas gun used to fire nanotube pellets at hypervelocity speeds. (Jeff Fitlow)

Rice University materials scientists are making nanodiamonds and other forms of carbon by smashing nanotubes against a target at high speeds. The process will enrich the knowledge of engineers who design structures that resist damage from high-speed impacts. The diamonds are the result of a detailed study on the ballistic fracturing of carbon nanotubes at different velocities. Such high-energy impacts caused atomic bonds in the nanotubes to break and sometimes recombine into different structures.

The work is intended to help aerospace engineers design ultralight materials for spacecraft and satellites that can withstand impacts from high-velocity projectiles like micrometeorites.