An international team of scientists have invented a technique that allows them to create two types of diamonds in just a few minutes. Diamonds, which are the hardest gemstones on the planet, naturally form over billions of years as carbon is heated and crushed under immense pressure beneath the surface of the Earth.
While scientists were able to recreate those conditions in a lab and turn graphite and molten iron into synthetic diamonds decades ago, the new method can be done at room temperature and only takes a matter of minutes.
To form the diamonds, the scientists applied intense pressure to carbon atoms. They said the pressure was the equivalent of 640 African elephants balancing on the tip of a ballet shoe. Using this new technique, the scientists were able to produce two types of diamonds, a regular diamond and a harder form of diamond known as Lonsdaleite.
"The twist in the story is how we apply the pressure," Australian National University Professor Jodie Bradby said. "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 scientists don't plan on selling the diamonds to be made into jewelry. Instead, they believe the Lonsdaleite can be used to make construction and mining equipment. Because Lonsdaleite can be up to 58% harder than regular diamonds, it can be used to make protective shielding and blades capable of cutting through just about any material.
"Lonsdaleite has the potential to be used for cutting through ultra-solid materials on mining sites," Bradby said.
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