(ORDO NEWS) — While studying diamonds inside an ancient meteorite, scientists have discovered a strange, intertwined microscopic structure that has never been seen before.
This structure, which is an interconnected form of graphite and diamond, has unique properties that could one day be used to develop ultra-fast charging or new types of electronics, the researchers say.
The diamond structures were locked inside the Canyon Diablo meteorite that crashed into Earth 50,000 years ago and was first discovered in Arizona in 1891. The diamonds in this meteorite are not what most people are familiar with.
Most known diamonds were formed about 150 kilometers (90 miles) below the Earth’s surface, where temperatures reach over 1,093 degrees Celsius (2,000 degrees Fahrenheit). The carbon atoms inside these diamonds are arranged in a cubic shape.
In contrast, the diamonds inside the Canyon Diablo meteorite are known as lonsdaleite – named after British crystallographer Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, the first female professor at University College London – and have a hexagonal crystal structure. These diamonds are only formed at extremely high pressures and temperatures.
Although scientists have successfully created lonsdaleite in the lab – using gunpowder and compressed air to propel graphite disks at 24,100 kilometers per hour (15,000 mph) against a wall – lonsdaleite only forms when asteroids hit Earth at extremely high speeds. .
While studying lonsdaleite in a meteorite, researchers discovered something strange. Instead of the purely hexagonal structures they expected, the researchers found outgrowths of another carbon-based material called graphene bonded to diamond.
These growths are known as diaphytes, and inside a meteorite they form in a particularly intriguing layered pattern. There are “stacking defects” between these layers, meaning the layers do not line up perfectly, the researchers said in a statement.
The discovery of diaphytes in meteorite lonsdaleite suggests that the material can be found in other carbonaceous material, the scientists in the study wrote, meaning it could be readily available for use as a resource. The discovery also gives researchers a better idea of the pressures and temperatures required to create the structure.
Graphene consists of a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon arranged in hexagons. While research into this material is still ongoing, it has many potential applications.
Because it is both light as a feather and as strong as diamond, transparent and highly conductive, and 1 million times thinner.
The researchers said it could one day be used for more targeted drugs, smaller electronics with lightning -fast charging speeds, or faster, more flexible technologies.
And now that researchers have found these graphene growths inside meteorites, it’s possible to learn more about how they form – and therefore how to make them in the lab.
“Through the controlled growth of structural layers, it should be possible to create materials that are both superhard and also ductile, and have controllable electronic properties from conductor to insulator,” Christoph Salzmann, chemist at University College London and co-author of the paper describing the study, says in the statement.
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