Molten steel is poured into a crucible, at somewhere around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, but another compound has recently been found that would put steel's melting point to shame. (iStock)

Hold on, hold on! We may have a new world record here.

Researchers from Brown University may have found a substance with a melting point that beats out the previous record by a few hundred degrees.

The candidate is a combination of three elements: hafnium, nitrogen and carbon, and it's expected to have a melting point of about 7,460 degrees Fahrenheit — about two-thirds the temperature of the sun.

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At that level of heat, the substance would beat out the long-time melting-point champion, tantalum hafnium carbide, which was found to have a melting point at 7,128 degrees in 1930 (sorry bud, you had a good run).

Now before we break out the champagne, there's still research left to be done. The discovery, published this week in the journal Physical Review B, has only been done on paper based on math. The researchers inferred the melting point while simulating the substance at the atomic level, using the law of quantum mechanics.

What's left to do now is create the substance and then try to melt it in a lab — a very, very hot lab. The research team will be working with the University of California-Davis, which has the right equipment to try it out.


Compounds made from hafnium and carbon have some of the highest known melting points. Using computer simulations, Brown University engineers predict that a material made with hafnium, nitrogen, and carbon will have a higher melting point than any known material. (Graphic courtesy of Brown University)

The research is a pretty good illustration of how our computers are getting faster and better at doing really complex calculations — but there's another reason why scientists like to put out predictions like this before it's actually demonstrated in a lab.

"You can always retroactively 'predict' something," said Axel van de Walle, author of the study and a professor at Brown University. "This is not really a wild guess."

At this point, it's unclear what practical applications this compound could have with such a high melting point. There are lots other properties, like being able to resist oxidation, that needs to be researched. Still, scientists say their work could possibly be used as a protective barrier for gas turbines or making heat shields on aircraft.

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Heat is how we describe how quickly the individual molecules in a substance are moving, and a melting point is when those molecules have enough energy to break away from their solid forms to be a liquid.

There are some metals, like mercury, that have such low melting points that they are better known as liquids. Gallium is a metal that's known to melt in people's hand.

At the other end of the spectrum is carbon, the element that's best at staying solid, (which is why most compounds with extremely high melting points have some kind of carbon in it). If you heat up a lump of carbon to ​6,588 degrees at ordinary pressure, it would just steam off like dry ice because there isn't enough pressure to make it a liquid — called sublimation. We would need 10 times the ordinary pressure of earth's atmosphere and 6,422 degrees to get carbon to its liquid state.

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