Making nanodiamonds out of bottle plastic
Extreme conditions inside ice giants such as Uranus and Neptune can result in peculiar chemistry and structural transitions, like the precipitation of diamonds or superionic water. To find out what happens inside such planets, an international team headed by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the University of Rostock and France’s École Polytechnique conducted a novel experiment. They mimicked the extreme conditions by firing a laser at a thin film of simple PET plastic and investigated what happened using intensive laser flashes. The strong flashes that hit the foil-like material sample briefly heated it up to 6000 °C and thus generated a shock wave that compressed the matter to millions of times the atmospheric pressure for a few nanoseconds. The scientists were able to determine that tiny diamonds, so-called nanodiamonds, formed under the extreme pressure.
One result was that the researchers were able to confirm their earlier thesis that it really does rain diamonds inside the ice giants at the periphery of our solar system. In addition to this rather fundamental knowledge, the new experiment also opens up perspectives for a technical application: the tailored production of nanometer-sized diamonds, which are already included in abrasives and polishing agents. In the future, they are supposed to be used as highly-sensitive quantum sensors, medical contrast agents and efficient reaction accelerators, for splitting CO2 for example.
The group has presented its findings in the journal Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo0617).
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