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Diamond Aerogel Could Improve a Range of Optics

Photonics.com
May 2011
LIVERMORE, Calif., May 19, 2011 — By combining high pressure with high temperature, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have created a nanocrystalline diamond aerogel that could improve the optics for something as big as a telescope or as small as the lenses in eyeglasses. The diamond aerogel was made from a standard carbon-based aerogel precursor using a laser-heated diamond anvil cell.

Aerogels are a class of materials that exhibit the lowest density, thermal conductivity, refractive index and sound velocity of any bulk solid. Aerogels are among the most versatile materials available for technical applications due to their many exceptional properties. This material has chemists, physicists, astronomers and materials scientists utilizing its properties in myriad applications, from a water purifier for desalinizing seawater to a meteorite particle collector on a NASA satellite.


A diamond aerogel has been hammered out of a microscopic anvil. (Images: Kwei-Yu Chu/LLNL)

A diamond anvil cell consists of two opposing diamonds with the sample compressed between them. It can compress a small piece of material (tens of microns or smaller) to extreme pressures, which can exceed 3 million atmospheres. The device has been used to recreate the pressure existing deep inside planets, creating materials and phases not observed under normal conditions. Since diamonds are transparent, intense laser light also can be focused onto the sample to simultaneously heat it to thousands of degrees.

The new form of diamond has a very low density similar to that of the precursor of around 40 milligrams per cubic centimeter, which is only about 40 times denser than air.

The diamond aerogel could have applications in antireflection coatings, a type of optical coating applied to the surface of lenses and other optical devices to reduce reflection. It can be applied to telescopes, binoculars, eyeglasses or any other device that may require reflection reduction. It also has potential applications in enhanced or modified biocompatibility, chemical doping, thermal conduction and electrical field emission.


The diamond anvil cell is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, but it can compress a sample to extreme pressures — up to about 3.6 million atmospheres at room temperature.

In creating diamond aergoels, lead researcher Peter Pauzauskie, a former Lawrence fellow now at the University of Washington, infused the pores of a standard carbon-based aerogel with neon, preventing the entire aerogel from collapsing on itself.

At that point, the team subjected the aerogel sample to tremendous pressures and temperatures (above 200,000 atmospheres and in excess of 2240 ºF), forcing the carbon atoms within to shift their arrangement and create crystalline diamonds.

The success of this work also leads the team to speculate that additional novel forms of diamond may be obtained by exposing appropriate precursors to the right combination of high pressure and temperature.

For more information, visit: www.llnl.gov


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