The structural and electronic properties of the diamond lattice, leading to its outstanding mechanical properties, are discussed. These include the highest elastic moduli and fracture strength of any known material. Its extreme hardness is strongly connected with the extreme shear modulus, which even exceeds the large bulk modulus, revealing that diamond is more resistant to shear deformation than to volume changes. These unique features protect the ideal diamond lattice also against mechanical failure and fracture. Besides fast heat conduction, the fast vibrational movement of carbon atoms results in an extreme speed of sound and propagation of crack tips with comparable velocity. The ideal mechanical properties are compared with those of real diamond films, plates, and crystals, such as ultrananocrystalline (UNC), nanocrystalline, microcrystalline, and homo- and heteroepitaxial single-crystal chemical vapor deposition (CVD) diamond, produced by metastable synthesis using CVD.
Ultrasonic methods have played and continue to play a dominant role in the determination of the linear elastic properties, such as elastic moduli of crystals or the Young’s modulus of thin films with substantially varying impurity levels and morphologies. A surprising result of these extensive measurements is that even UNC diamond may approach the extreme Young’s modulus of single-crystal diamond under optimized deposition conditions. The physical reasons for why the stiffness often deviates by no more than a factor of two from the ideal value are discussed, keeping in mind the large variety of diamond materials grown by various deposition conditions.
Diamond is also known for its extreme hardness and fracture strength, despite its brittle nature. However, even for the best natural and synthetic diamond crystals, the measured critical fracture stress is one to two orders of magnitude smaller than the ideal value obtained by ab initio calculations for the ideal cubic lattice. Currently, fracture is studied mainly by indentation or mechanical breaking of freestanding films, e.g., by bending or bursting. It is very difficult to study the fracture mechanism, discriminating between tensile, shear, and tearing stress components (mode I–III fracture) with these partly semiquantitative methods. A novel ultrasonic laser-based technique using short nonlinear surface acoustic wave pulses, developing shock fronts during propagation, has recently been employed to study mode-resolved fractures of single-crystal silicon. This method allows the generation of finite cracks and the evaluation of the fracture strength for well-defined crystallographic configurations. Laser ultrasonics reaches the critical stress at which real diamond fails and therefore can be employed as a new tool for mechanistic studies of the fracture behavior of CVD diamond in the future.