A team of international scientists, including from the Australian National University (ANU) have defied nature to make diamonds at room temperature in a laboratory in minutes.
However, one of the lead researchers, ANU Professor Jodie Bradby said the breakthrough would not replace mined diamonds.
“We are after a different market; regular mined diamonds are the cubic diamond, and we are looking to make Lonsdaleite diamonds that are harder,” she said.
“These diamonds are not easily produced by nature and the normal cubic diamond is grown a few different ways and we can synthesise it in a lab.
The Lonsdaleite diamond has a different structure to a regular diamond and is estimated to be 58% harder. These diamonds can be useful as drill bits to break through and cut ultra-solid materials.
Scientists form the diamonds by applying high pressures, equivalent to 640 African elephants on the tip on a ballet shoe.
Usually, diamonds are created over billions of years, 150 kilometres deep in temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius.
“The twist in the story is how we apply the pressure. As well as very high pressures, we allow the carbon to also experience something called ‘shear’ – which is like a twisting or sliding force,” Professor Bradby said.
“We think this allows the carbon atoms to move into place and form Lonsdaleite and regular diamond.”
Along the way, Professor Bradby said it was a pleasant surprise to see the technique work for regular diamonds as well.
The team now hopes to continue their research, with Professor Bradby saying the goal was to produce larger Lonsdaleite diamonds at a cheaper cost.
“If we wanted just to load up a cell we could do it in a matter of minutes but I would need to preface that by saying we are making really small amounts at this stage,” she said.
“Now the work begins on how to make more of it, make it more cheaply and at lower pressures.”