According to a report published in the current issue of Physical Review Letters, osmium can withstand compression better than any known material. The results provide a potentially new lead in the search for superhard materials.



Diamond’s ability to resist scratches, dents and chipping–in short, its hardness–makes it an ideal choice for tips in industrial strength machines. A related quality that is easier to calculate than hardness is an element’s resistance to compression. The properties are interrelated because the stiffest materials also tend to be the hardest ones. But even though osmium is much softer than diamond, initial estimates of its bulk modulus indicated a similar value to that of diamond.