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TRENDING SCIENCE: Diamonds are forever, and now they can be made in just minutes

In a first, scientists create diamonds at room temperature in a lab within minutes.

Fundamental Research

Deep within Earth’s surface, diamonds take billions of years to form. In addition to time, it also takes incredible heat, massive pressure and carbon to produce these precious stones. Scientists in Australia are defying nature by making them in minutes. This feat has never been accomplished before, not unless you count that of the iconic superhero Superman.

Nature-defying breakthrough

“Natural diamonds are usually formed over billions of years, about 150 kilometres deep in the Earth where there are high pressures and temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius,” co-author Jodie Bradby, physics professor at the Australian National University (ANU), commented in a press release. Findings were published in the journal ‘Small’. It’s the first time diamonds have successfully been produced in a lab by just applying high pressures and without added heat. The scientists made two types of diamonds. One is the conventional kind found on rings. The other, called Lonsdaleite, is found in nature at the site of meteorite impacts. To create the diamonds, they squashed carbon with pressure equivalent to the weight of 640 African elephants standing on the tip of a ballet shoe, according to the press release. Prof. Bradby explained: “The twist in the story is how we apply the pressure. As well as very high pressures, we allow the carbon to also experience something called ‘shear’ - which is like a twisting or sliding force. We think this allows the carbon atoms to move into place and form Lonsdaleite and regular diamond.” The team used advanced imaging techniques to capture very-high-resolution images to show how the two types formed. Excitement was greater for the harder Lonsdaleite diamond because of its potential for cutting through ultra-solid materials on mining sites. “Creating more of this rare but super useful diamond is the long-term aim of this work,” co-author Xingshuo Huang, an ANU PhD scholar working on the project, told ‘CNN’. “Being able to make two types of diamonds at room temperature was exciting to achieve for the first time in our lab.”

Good news for industry

An article submitted by members of the research team to ‘The Conversation’ suggests that being able to create diamonds at room temperature in minutes could open up several new possibilities in manufacturing. “Specifically, making the ‘harder than diamond’ Lonsdaleite this way is exciting news for industries where extremely hard materials are needed.” The article indicates that the scientists’ next challenge is to reduce the pressure needed to form the diamonds. “If both diamond and Lonsdaleite could be made at lower pressures, we could make more of it, quicker and cheaper.” “Any process at room temperature is way easier and cheaper to engineer than a process you have to run at several hundred or a thousand degrees,” Prof. Bradby told the United Kingdom’s ‘Daily Mail’. “Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to mean cheaper diamonds for engagement rings. But our Lonsdaleite diamonds might become a miner’s best friend if we can save them having to change costly drill bits as often.”

Keywords

diamond, Lonsdaleite, pressure, carbon, room temperature