A New Research Creating Nanodiamonds Using A Water Bottle
Can you imagine that we can create diamonds using your water bottle? Especially, the plastic one. Researchers found a way for this while researching planets like Neptune and Uranus. Nanodiamonds are carbon nanoparticles with a crystal structure closely resembling the atomic diamond structure. They are widely used in the medical industry as drug delivery systems.
A multinational team led by Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the University of Rostock, and France’s École Polytechnique researched ice giant planets. They used intense laser flashes to study what happened when shooting a laser at a thin sheet of ordinary PET plastic.
Resultantly, the researchers could validate their previous theory that diamonds do indeed shower within these planets on the outskirts of our solar system. Another finding was that this process might pave the way for a new method of generating nanodiamonds. They are required, for example, in very sensitive quantum sensors. The journal Science Advances published the research report.
Creating Nanodiamonds Using PET Plastic
Temperatures in the interiors of frozen large planets like Neptune and Uranus may reach thousands of degrees Celsius, and pressures are millions of times greater than in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, conditions like this can be briefly simulated in the lab. When powerful laser flashes strike a film-like material sample, heat it in the range of 3500 to 6000 K in a split second. That generates a shock wave that compresses the material for a few nanoseconds to a million times the atmospheric pressure. Dominik Kraus, a physicist at HZDR and professor at the University of Rostock says that previously they used hydrocarbon films for these kinds of experiments. Further, they observed that this tremendous pressure formed nanodiamonds, which are microscopic diamonds.
As the ice giants contain not just carbon and hydrogen, but also large amounts of oxygen. Hence, these films could only partially replicate the interiors of planets. When looking for suitable film material, the researchers came across a common substance: PET. Polythylene terephthalate (PET) is the resin used to make regular plastic bottles. Kraus explains that PET has a strong carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen balance to represent the activity in ice worlds. The team used the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), a powerful, accelerator-based X-ray laser for their experiments. They used it to study what happens when intense laser flashes strike a PET film, applying two measuring methods simultaneously. X-ray diffraction to detect if nanodiamonds were generated and small-angle scattering to assess how quickly and how large the diamonds grew.
How does Oxygen help in the formation of Nanodiamonds?
Dominik Kraus reported that oxygen had the effect of accelerating the splitting of carbon and hydrogen and therefore stimulating the creation of nanodiamonds. It meant that carbon atoms could easily unite and produce diamonds. This leads to clear evidence that diamonds rain on the ice giants. The findings are likely to apply not only to Uranus and Neptune but to a plethora of other planets in our galaxy as well. While such ice giants were once considered to be rare, it now seems that they are the most prevalent type of planet beyond the solar system.
The researchers also discovered another type of hint. When the diamonds were combined, water should be formed – but in an unexpected form. Kraus believes that superionic water may have developed. The oxygen atoms form a crystal lattice within which the hydrogen nuclei freely move. Because the nuclei are electrically charged, superionic water may carry electric current and so contribute to the formation of the magnetic field of the ice giants. However, the study team was unable to definitively verify the existence of superionic water in the combination with diamonds in their studies. They planned to study this at the European XFEL in Hamburg, the world’s most powerful X-ray laser.
The Next Step for Nanodiamonds
Apart from this relatively basic understanding, the new experiment provides possibilities for a technological application. That is the targeted manufacturing of nanometer-sized diamonds, which are already used in abrasives and polishing agents. They are expected to be employed in the future as very sensitive quantum sensors, medicinal contrast agents, and efficient reaction accelerators, such as splitting CO2. Kraus stated that diamonds of this type have been mostly generated by detonating explosives till now. They could be created considerably more precisely in the future with the aid of laser flashes.
The Standpoint of the Researchers
A high-performance laser fires ten flashes per second at a PET film that is illuminated by the beam at 1/10th second intervals. The resulting nanodiamonds break from the film and settle in a water-filled collecting tank. There they are decelerated and may subsequently be filtered and properly gathered. Dominik Kraus highlights that the main benefit of this technology over explosive manufacturing is that the nanodiamonds might be custom cut in terms of size or even doped with other elements. With the X-ray laser, we now have a lab instrument that can accurately regulate the formation of diamonds.
Resources provided by Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Zhiyu He, Melanie Rödel – Diamond formation kinetics in shock-compressed C─H─O samples recorded by small-angle x-ray scattering and x-ray diffraction. Science Advances, 2022; 8 (35) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo0617
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