Turn ordinary plastic into diamond with a laser beam in the blink of an eye

Plastic Diamonds – cc Steve Jurvetson

A thin layer of plastic was transformed, for the first time ever, into tiny diamonds in the blink of an eye after being shot with a laser beam.

Synthetic diamond is highly valued for its hardness and is used to make high quality cutting and polishing tools, but equally in terms of thermal conductivity and electrical insulation.

Opening up the production of synthetic diamonds from plastic could increase the demand for water bottles and other containers that often end up in the sea.

The breakthrough also has implications for planetary science, and the researchers who ran this philosopher’s stone-like transformation said it sheds light on what’s going on inside the ice giants Neptune and Uranus.

How exactly did something costing pennies turn into the hardest and rarest metal on Earth?

At the most basic level, diamond is simply a solid form of carbon, arranged in a specific crystal structure along with hydrogen and oxygen.

In tests, a sheet of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for food and beverage packaging was heated by a laser beam up to 6000°C. Polyethylene terephthalate is made from petroleum, which in industry is known as a “hydrocarbon”.

Test pressure plastic under a weight millions of times the Earth’s atmospheric pressure for a few billionths of a second. This amazing experiment reshaped plastic particles into a nanodiamond.

“So far, diamonds of this type have been produced mainly by detonating explosives,” said Professor Dominic Krause, of the University of Rostock, Germany, and one of the study’s authors. “With the help of laser flashes, it can be made much cleaner in the future.”

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The laser fired ten flashes at the plastic film, after which the nanodiamonds formed and fell into a collection tank filled with water. There they are slowed down and can then be filtered and collected.

So far, we have used hydrocarbon membranes for these types of experiments. And we discovered that this intense pressure produced diamonds that were small in size,” Krause explained. “PET has a good balance of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen to simulate activity in icy planets.”

Proving that this can be done using plastic takes the concept to a whole new level of convenience for production on Earth, as well as revealing how nanodiamonds can form in large quantities on ice giants like Neptune and Uranus.

Ice giants contain carbon, hydrogen and huge amounts of oxygen. The new study was published in science progress Confirmed that it is indeed raining diamonds inside the ice giants at the edge of the solar system.

The effect of the oxygen was to accelerate the splitting of carbon and hydrogen and thus encourage the formation of nanodiamonds. This means that the carbon atoms can combine more easily and form diamonds.”

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Temperatures in the interior of Neptune and Uranus reach several thousand degrees Celsius and pressures are millions of times greater than that of the Earth’s atmosphere. Above, the gaseous outer atmosphere is one of the coldest places in the solar system.

This creates storms that produce hailstones from diamonds. Scientists believe this has been the case for 40 years, and recent studies reinforced this hypothesis.

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