Scientist observes how synthetic diamonds grow from seeds
The researchers at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the US also discovered how big the seeds need to be to kick the crystal growing process into overdrive.
Natural diamond is forged by tremendous pressures and temperatures deep underground.
The research, published in the journal PNAS, sheds light on how nucleation proceeds not just in diamonds, but in the atmosphere, in silicon crystals used for computer chips and even in proteins that clump together in neurological diseases.
"Nucleation growth is a core tenet of materials science, and there is a theory and a formula that describes how this happens in every textbook," said Nicholas Melosh, a professor at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
It turns out that interfaces are incredibly important in growing diamonds with a process called CVD, or chemical vapour deposition, that is widely used to make synthetic diamond for industry and jewellery, researchers said.
To grow diamond in the lab with CVD, tiny bits of crushed diamond are seeded onto a surface and exposed to a plasma – a cloud of gas heated to such high temperatures that electrons are stripped away from their atoms.
The plasma contains hydrogen and carbon, the two elements needed to form a diamond.
"Since there are many ways to pack carbon atoms into a solid, it all has to be done under just the right conditions," researchers said.
"Otherwise you can end up with graphite, commonly known as pencil lead, instead of the sparkly stuff you were after," they said.
Even more important, Gebbie said, they were able to directly measure the energy barrier that diamondoid particles have to overcome in order to grow into crystals.
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