Scientists synthesize non-crystalline diamond for the first time in history

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For the first time, scientists at the University of Bayreuth in Germany have synthesized a carbon material that does not have ordered structures like those found in conventional diamonds. This paracrystalline compound also has unique optical, mechanical and thermophysical properties.

The discovery is an advance in the study of non-crystalline materials with disordered structures that, despite the apparent disorganization of their atoms, cannot be considered amorphous, since the morphological arrangement of their network follows patterns with well-defined aspects.

“The new material can be described as a paracrystalline diamond, which differs from all previously known structural variations of diamond. It has a non-amorphous structure in which the carbon atoms are partially arranged in cubes, hexagons and irregular structures”, explains professor of geochemistry Hu Tang, the study’s lead author.

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High pressure

Diamond is a material that develops naturally under very high pressures inside the Earth. It is basically made up of carbon atoms arranged in a three-dimensional crystal lattice. Each of these atoms has four covalent bonds with electrons split between their orbitals.

To produce a non-crystalline diamond, the researchers used an ultra-pressure press equipped with a high-volume multi-anvil system. They applied a pressure of 30 gigapascals at a temperature of over 1,300 °C, causing the carbon atoms to form a structure without crystalline characteristics.

“The material we synthesized is a hermaphrodite: for the first time, it forms a bridge between crystalline and amorphous structures, that is, completely disordered. This finding may encourage the search for other compounds in this same intermediate range”, adds geoscience professor Tomo Katsura, co-author of the study.

computer tests

Before being synthesized in a volumetric press, the paracrystalline diamond had its structures analyzed in computer simulations. The scientists evaluated step by step how this material would behave in environments with extreme temperatures and under conditions of high pressure.

The discovery of paracrystalline diamond adds an unusual crystal shape to the enriched carbon family, exhibiting distinct physical properties that can be exploited to develop new materials as resistant as the original examples, but with the advantage of being manufactured in the laboratory.

“Furthermore, this work reveals the missing link in the length scale between amorphous and crystalline states in the entire structural landscape, having profound implications for the recognition of complex structures arising from materials without defined shapes”, concludes Professor Hu Tang.

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