In superhard materials research, two topics are of central focus. One is to understand hardness microscopically and to establish hardness models with atomic parameters, which can be used to guide the design or prediction of novel superhard crystals. The other is to synthesize superhard materials with enhanced comprehensive performance (i.e., hardness, fracture toughness, and thermal stability), with the ambition of achieving materials harder than natural diamond. In this review, we present recent developments in both areas. The microscopic hardness models of covalent single crystals are introduced and further generalized to polycrystalline materials. Current research progress in novel superhard materials and nanostructuring approaches for high-performance superhard materials are discussed. We also clarify a long-standing controversy about the criterion for performing a reliable indentation hardness measurement.


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