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Diamonds may be timeless, but that doesn’t mean they take eons to form.

Gemstones are generally created after carbon is crushed and heated far below the Earth’s surface for billions of years, which is what makes them so coveted.

Now, scientists in Australia They say they have sped up the process in a matter of minutes and at room temperature.

An international team of researchers led by the Australian National University (ANU) and RMIT University in Melbourne said they have created two types of diamonds at room temperature using high pressure equivalent to 640 African elephants balancing on the toe of a ballet shoe.

PhD scholar Xingshuo Huang of the Australian National University holds up the diamond anvil the team used to make the lab diamonds.
PhD scholar Xingshuo Huang of the Australian National University holds up the diamond anvil the team used to make the lab diamonds. (Jamie Kidston / ANU)

The researchers said they were able to create two structurally different types of diamonds, one similar to those typically used in jewelry and another type called Lonsdaleite, which occurs naturally at the site of meteorite impacts and is harder than most diamonds. .

Synthetic diamonds are not new in themselves and have already been created in labs since the 1940s in an attempt to find cheaper, more ethical, and more environmentally friendly stones.

But the researchers were excited to create such diamonds at room temperature, especially the harder Lonsdaleite diamond, which has the potential to be used to cut “ultra-solid” materials at mining sites, they said.

“Creating more of this rare but super useful diamond is the long-term goal of this work,” said Xingshuo Huang, an ANU academic working on the project.

“It was exciting to be able to make two types of diamonds at room temperature for the first time in our lab.”

Lab-grown diamonds are generally created by subjecting carbon to intense heat.

This close up image shows the diamond
This close-up image shows the “rivers” of diamonds. (RMIT)

Huge twisting and sliding force

To form the diamonds, the researchers applied immense pressure to create a “twisting or sliding force” that they believe caused the carbon atoms to move into place, said Jodie Bradby, a professor of physics at ANU.

“Natural diamonds generally form over billions of years, about 150 kilometers deep on Earth, where there are high pressures and temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius,” he said. “The twist of the story is how we apply the pressure.”

Dougal McCulloch, a physics professor at RMIT who co-led the research, and his team then used advanced electron microscopy techniques to cut sections of the experimental samples to better understand how they formed.

When the team studied the samples, they found regular diamond and Lonsdaleite streaks.

“Seeing these little ‘rivers’ of Lonsdaleite and regular diamond for the first time was just amazing and really helps us understand how they could be formed,” said Professor McCulloch.

Researchers from the University of Sydney and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, USA, also participated in the research.

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