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How to Make a Diamond

From Wired:

“Armed with inexpensive, mass-produced gems, two startups are launching an assault on the De Beers cartel.”

Wired writer Joshua Davis reports that two companies, Gemesis and Apollo are synthetically producing diamonds. Apollo’s diamonds have reached a level so close to traditionally mined diamonds that they are almost indistinguishable. In fact they are only identifiable because of the fact that they are too perfect.

This leads to the inevitable question, “How will consumers feel about them? The mystique of natural diamonds is anything but rational. Part of the allure is their high cost and supposed rarity. Yet diamonds are plentiful – De Beers maintains vast stockpiles and tightly controls supply.”

One gem wholesaler states, “If you go into a florist and buy a beautiful orchid, it’s not grown in some steamy hot jungle in Central America. It’s grown in a hothouse somewhere in California. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a beautiful orchid.”

Jef Van Royen, a senior scientist at the Diamond High Council, disagrees. He contends that, “If people really love each other, then they give each other the real stone. It is not a symbol of eternal love if it is something that was created last week.”

The article continues by pointing out that selling diamonds as gemstones is just the tip of the iceberg. Next up: the computing industry, where diamonds could theoretically be used as semiconductors.

Silicon processors are limited by the fact that as processors get faster they also get hotter. Eventually the technology will lead to processors that get so hot as to melt the silicon.

Diamonds on the other hand could handle the heat. In order to form microchip circuits, however, positive and negative conductors are needed and diamond is an inherent insulator – it doesn’t conduct electricity.

From the article:

But both Gemesis and Apollo have been able to inject boron into the lattice, which creates a positive charge. Until now, though, no one had been able to manufacture a negatively charged, or n-type, diamond with sufficient conductivity. When I visit Butler in Washington, he can barely contain his glee. “There’s been a major breakthrough,” he tells me. In June, together with scientists from Israel and France, he announced a novel way of inverting boron’s natural conductivity to form a boron-doped n-type diamond. “We now have a p-n junction,” Butler says. “Which means that we have a diamond semiconductor that really works. I can now see an Intel diamond Pentium chip on the horizon.”

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