The Hardest Superconducting Metal Nitride

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Transition–metal (TM) nitrides are a class of compounds with a wide range of properties and applications. Hard superconducting nitrides are of particular interest for electronic applications under working conditions such as coating and high stress (e.g., electromechanical systems). However, most of the known TM nitrides crystallize in the rock–salt structure, a structure that is unfavorable to resist shear strain, and they exhibit relatively low indentation hardness, typically in the range of 10–20 GPa. Here, we report high–pressure synthesis of hexagonal δ–MoN and cubic γ–MoN through an ion–exchange reaction at 3.5 GPa. The final products are in the bulk form with crystallite sizes of 50 – 80 μm. Based on indentation testing on single crystals, hexagonal δ–MoN exhibits excellent hardness of ~30 GPa, which is 30% higher than cubic γ–MoN (~23 GPa) and is so far the hardest among the known metal nitrides. The hardness enhancement in hexagonal phase is attributed to extended covalently bonded Mo–N network than that in cubic phase. The measured superconducting transition temperatures for δ–MoN and cubic γ–MoN are 13.8 and 5.5 K, respectively, in good agreement with previous measurements.