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Name: Brent
Status: student
Grade: 9-12
Country: USA
Date: Fall 2009

What material can withstand the immense pressures of the earth's crust? As well, if such a material was viable enough to withstand the earth's pressure could one build a tunnel with such material?

Hi Brent,

The pressures that exist deep in the earth's crust are essentially compressive stress, and good old concrete withstands compressive stress as well or better than most any other material, as does the rock itself.

Your second question is a bit puzzling. Concrete is already the material of choice for building tunnels, but I wonder if you are asking what material could be used to build a tunnel, miles deep in the earth's crust. If so, my question to you is, why would you want to do this? It gets very hot down there. At only 1 mile down the temperature increases over 70°F to about 140°F; way too hot to sustain human life.

Bob Wilson

I am not sure I understand what you mean by "withstand". Under high pressure a material will move under the force of the pressure (for example volcanos), or it may change chemical form (for example carbon may change from graphite into diamond), or it may undergo chemical reactions with other materials. The pressures involved, as you have pointed out correctly, are huge. In addition, there is a large increase in temperature. Designing a drill that can bore a hole through such materials under those conditions is a challenging chemical engineering problem.

Vince Calder

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