Scientists are finding ways to make small DIAMONDS quickly with surprisingly little heat and no catalyst
Scientists have developed a way to make small diamonds quickly and easily with surprisingly little heat and no catalyst.
The technique involves extracting special cage-like molecules from petroleum and natural gas and then heating them under intense pressure with a laser.
However, the applications of the diamonds created may be limited because the technique is unable to make gems larger than the width of a human hair.
Scroll down for video
Scientists have developed a way to make small diamonds (photo) quickly and with surprisingly little heat and no catalyst. The technique involves extracting cage-like molecules from petroleum and natural gas and subsequently heating them with a laser under intense pressure
“The exciting thing about this article is that it shows a way to deceive the thermodynamics of what is typically needed for diamond formation,” said writer and geologist Rodney Ewing of Stanford University in California.
The natural diamonds that we have formed today from carbon buried hundreds of miles below ground, where temperatures reached several thousand degrees Fahrenheit.
The gems were then brought up by volcanic activity – and brought with them ancient minerals that can shine light on conditions deep inside the earth.
“Diamonds are barrels for bringing back samples from the deepest parts of the earth,” added Stanford university mineralogist Wendy Mao, who leads the laboratory where Professor Ewing and colleagues conducted most of their research.
The researchers, on the other hand, were interested in the processes that can be used to make diamonds in the laboratory, so that ultimately the unique properties of the gems can be applied to other applications.
Diamonds are extremely hard, transparent to light, chemically stable and transfer heat efficiently – properties that can be found in numerous applications, including in medicine, biological detection, quantum computer hardware and the general industry.
Experts have been making artificial diamonds for more than six decades, but conventional methods for diamond synthesis usually require huge amounts of energy or time – or the addition of a catalyst that reduces the resulting material.
“We just wanted to see a clean system in which a single substance turns into pure diamond – without a catalyst,” said lead author and geologist Sulgiye Park.
However, the applications of the diamonds created may be limited because the technique is unable to make gems larger than the width of a human hair. In the photo, lead author Sulgiye Park poses with a sample of the diamond-shaped powder and a model of the structure
In their study, the team started with samples of a powder – superficially resembling rock salt – refined from fossil fuel petroleum.
On an atomic scale, the powders – known as diamondoids – are structured in the same way as a diamond, albeit in which the crystal lattice was split into small units consisting of one, two or three molecular cages.
Unlike real diamonds, which are made from pure carbon, the diamantoids also contain hydrogen atoms.
“You can make diamonds faster and easier with these building blocks,” Professor Mao explained.
‘You can also learn about the [diamond formation] process in a more complete, thoughtful way than when you only imitate the high pressure and high temperatures found in the part of the earth where diamond forms naturally. “
Only a ‘small amount’ of the diamond-shaped powders was used by the researchers. “We use a needle to pick up a little and get it under a microscope for our experiments,” Professor Mao added
The team placed the powder sample in a small pressure chamber – a so-called ‘diamond anvil cell’ – that used two polished diamonds to exert the same kind of forces between them that would be found deep in the earth
Only a ‘small amount’ of the diamond-shaped powders was used by the researchers.
“We use a needle to pick up a little and get it under a microscope for our experiments,” Professor Mao added.
The team placed the powder sample in a small pressure chamber – a so-called ‘diamond anvil cell’ – that used two polished diamonds to exert the same kind of forces between them that would be found deep in the earth.
The final step involved heating the sample with a laser – transforming the powder into diamonds in just a fraction of a second.
On an atomic scale, the powders – known as diamondoids – are structured in the same way as a diamond, albeit in which the crystal lattice was split into small units consisting of one, two or three molecular cages. Pictured, paper author Yu Lin with models of one, two and three diamond cages, together with a diamond lattice
“A fundamental question that we tried to answer is whether the structure or the number of cages influences how diamantoids turn into diamonds,” said paper author and geologist Yu Lin.
The team discovered that the three-cage diamonds – also known as triamantane – require surprisingly little energy to rearrange themselves into diamonds.
In particular, this transition – where the hydrogen atoms of the diamond are scattered – takes place at about 1160 ° F, about the temperature of red-hot lava, and is hundreds of thousands of times higher than those in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The researchers note that the size limitations of the sample that can be pressurized in a diamond anvil cell mean that this approach can only be used to make small diamond stains.
“But now we know a little more about the keys to making pure diamonds,” Professor Mao commented.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Science is progressing.
HOW SCIENTISTS GROW DIAMONDS IN A LABORATORY?
Diamonds get their lofty price tags because they form millions of years under high pressure and temperatures deep in the earth’s crust.
But a number of companies are now growing the gems in laboratories around the world and are threatening to shake up the diamond industry.
A small ‘seed’ diamond acts as a scaffold for the process.
Scientists first place this seed in a vacuum chamber to remove impurities from the air.
Lab gems made threaten to upset the diamond industry, with various companies worldwide who now grow stones for jewelry. In this image, CEO Lisa Bissell of Pure Grown Diamonds in 2015 unveils a lab-cultivated diamond in New York
They then direct hydrogen and methane gas heat to 3000 ° C (5400 ° F) in the chamber to create a highly charged gas known as plasma.
The gases break apart rapidly, releasing carbon atoms from the methane that accumulates on the diamond seed.
These atoms naturally copy the crystal structure of organic diamond, which also consists of carbon atoms.
Each artificial stone grows at a speed of approximately 0.0002 inches (0.006 mm) per hour.