Wednesday, June 5, 2024

South Korean Lab Grows Diamonds in 15 Minutes

In a groundbreaking development, researchers at a South Korean lab have successfully grown diamonds in just 15 minutes, a process that typically takes billions of years in nature.


Traditionally, natural diamonds form under extreme conditions: 50,000 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level and temperatures exceeding 1,500°C, deep within the Earth’s mantle. The diamonds are then brought to the surface through mining, a process spanning 1 to 3.3 billion years.


However, a new technique developed by Rodney Ruoff, a physical chemist at the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea, bypasses these requirements. The study, published on April 24 in the journal Nature, outlines a method that eliminates the need for high pressure or seed diamonds, which are typically necessary in lab-grown diamond production.

The traditional high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) method involves placing a seed diamond in a chamber, subjecting it to intense heat and pressure, and introducing liquid metal with dissolved carbon. This process, which produces 99% of lab-grown diamonds, can take weeks and requires maintaining extreme conditions.

Ruoff’s team, however, has developed a nine-liter chamber filled with gallium, an element that liquefies at just 30°C. The chamber operates at a significantly lower temperature of 1,025°C and normal atmospheric pressure. Within 15 minutes, the setup begins producing diamonds. The researchers experimented with various metal and gas combinations, finding that a mixture of gallium, nickel, iron, and silicon was most effective.

The new method’s limitation is the size of the diamonds produced, which are currently too small for commercial use. Despite this, the rapid production time and simpler conditions represent a significant breakthrough, potentially paving the way for further advancements.

The lab-grown diamond industry has seen substantial growth, expanding from $1 billion in 2016 to over $12 billion in 2022. Seventeen percent of all diamonds on the global market are lab-grown, according to CNN. This new technique could further revolutionize the industry by drastically reducing production times and costs.

While diamond miners remain unaffected for now due to the small size of the diamonds, the potential for scaling up the process suggests future implications for both the jewelry market and industrial applications.

“Growth of diamond in liquid metal at moderate temperature and 1 atm pressure opens many possibilities,” the study concluded.

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