How to Turn Your Plastic into Diamonds? Shoot it with Lasers!

Khryss | Published 2017-08-24 10:11

Why is the diamond moody? I don't know, it has been under a lot pressure lately...

A team of researchers led by Dominik Kraus, a physicist at the German research laboratory Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, utilized the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) and the Matter in Extreme Conditions (MEC) instrument to mimic the environment of the interiors of large ice gas planets and make a diamond rain. And no, this isn't for the big diamond company's next advertisement.

With the intense conditions of the planets like Uranus and Neptune's surface, glittering diamond hailstorms have long been suspected to occur there. Don't believe me? These environments can reach up to 5,000 Kelvin (8,540 Fahrenheit) and 150 gigapascals (1.5 million Earth atmospheres)! Not so unbelievable now, is it?

And just like some old folktale, the recent experiment cleared out (a little bit?) how such is indeed possible. Putting samples of polystyrene, a hydrocarbon-based plastic under similar condition, the laser shocked these into producing diamonds. This hailed the results as "the first unambiguous observation of high-pressure diamond formation," according to a statement.

"Such surprising moments of clear insight are very rare in science," Kraus told Motherboard in an email. "Usually, it's long and hard work trying to make sense out of inconclusive data. Here, it was just clear from the very beginning. It was just 'wow!' And that's true for everybody in the team."

And as if not dazzling enough on its own, the study has its implications beyond its research field.  Mainly, this can be applied to creating useful "nanodiamonds" or having a more advance diamond-making technique for commercial applications.

"With high-energy lasers, we hope that [nanodiamond] synthesis may be cleaner and easier to control," Kraus said. "But this is still to be demonstrated. We are working on that and already did promising experiments very recently, more to come."

Tiffany may just soon have its next greatest rival.

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