Researchers grow diamonds for industrial use
October 8, 1996
Web posted at: 1:50 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Ann Kellan
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- The word diamond comes from the
Greek "adamas," meaning unconquerable. It is the Superman of
all minerals -- the clearest and the hardest known.
Much more than a girl's best friend, the diamond is also a
workhorse of industry. It is used in drill bits and cutting
tools and to grind optical lenses. Now, efforts are under way
to grow the super-hard minerals in the lab.
During Operation Desert Storm, sand blasted the infrared
windows used by jet fighter pilots to see at night. The
desert pebbles scratched the thick, clear navigational
windows, turning them into opaque walls -- cloudy, gritty and
dangerous for pilots in flight.
Lockheed Martin, maker of the window, funded a project at the
University of Florida for researchers to find a way to
protect the windows from such wear and tear. Their solution:
a diamond coating.
Researcher Melanie Carasso said the coating is created by
mixing a powder containing microscopic diamond particles, or
seeds, with water. Into the solution
goes a silicon wafer, treated so the diamond seeds will stick
Then the wafer is microwaved in a chamber filled with carbon
gases. The intense heat from the microwave breaks down the
gases. And since diamonds are made of carbon, the carbon
atoms from the gases are naturally attracted to and adhere to
the diamond seeds on the silicon wafer, growing more
Once perfected, the researchers say, this technique can be
used to coat a variety of surfaces, making them virtually
scratch-proof. The future could include everything from
diamond-coated kitchens to spacecraft windows.
One such window has already gone into space. An
expensive, quarter-sized diamond-coated window endured
extreme temperatures and conditions on one of the Pioneer
probes to Venus in 1978.
The scientists are also trying to find ways to grow single
crystal diamonds cheaper and faster.
At the University of Alabama, researchers grew a sixth of a
carat onto a clear diamond by cranking up their
microwave chamber to about 2,000 degrees.
"You can grow diamond at a rate of a human hair size in ten
minutes," Yogesh Vohra, a professor of physics at the
University of Alabama.
Even though researchers are increasing the speed at which
diamonds grow, it is still very expensive to reproduce
diamonds in the lab. A natural high grade, one-carat diamond
may cost $6,300 out on the market -- but a similar synthetic
would cost $10,000 to make in the lab.
Scientists hope one day to bring down the cost of making diamonds for use in computers, where circuitry heats up.
"If you've looked at most Pentiums in computers today, they
get pretty hot," said Les Kramer of Lockheed Martin. "And
if you took that fan off you'd burn them out in about two to
Researchers believe that some day silicon microchips could be
replaced by diamond chips, making for faster, more powerful
computers that are able to take the heat.
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