The history of the diamond industry is rich in conflicts, unregulated labor and monopolies. Not only that, but these sparkling gems require billions of years in the deep depressions of the earth under enormous pressure and heat to be compressed before they are ready to be processed into jewelry or industrial machinery – hence their extreme rarity and price.
As a result, researchers have struggled to find a viable method of creating diamonds in a laboratory that is cheaper, faster, and more ethical than traditional diamond hunting.
Now, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) and RMIT University have developed a method that can create diamonds in minutes at room temperature, a feat never done before.
“Natural diamonds are usually formed over billions of years, about 1
Using a new method, as they describe in their study published in Small, the researchers synthesized two types of diamonds: the common type used for jewelry, and a type of diamond called Lonsdaleite, which is theoretically harder than cubic diamond, but only found in graphite meteorites.
To create the diamond, glassy carbon is compressed to extreme pressures. Glassy carbon is a form of carbon without crystals which, when compressed into diamond anvil cells, can form veins of diamond.
Diamond has been synthesized in laboratories since H. Tracy Hall achieved the first commercially successful synthesis in 1954, but the process is incredibly expensive and requires both intense pressure and extremely high temperatures. But by changing the way the pressure is applied, the researchers discovered that high temperatures may not be necessary.
“Twist in history is how we apply pressure. In addition to very high pressures, we allow carbon to also experience something called ‘displacement’ – which is like a twisting or sliding force. We believe this makes it possible for carbon atoms to move into place and form Lonsdaleite and ordinary diamond, ”said Professor Bradby.
The process has not yet been proven to produce significant amounts of diamond. The results suggest that both diamond and Lonsdaleite can be synthesized at room temperature, but more work needs to be done now to improve the process. Both materials are extremely useful in a variety of industries, from cutting through ultra-hard materials to biomedical applications that include sensing and drug delivery. If these could be produced in large enough quantities, it could have massive consequences.
“Lonsdaleite has the potential to be used to cut through ultra-solid materials at mining sites,” said Professor Bradby.
“Creating more of this rare but super useful diamond is the long-term goal of this work.”