Apollo Man Made Diamonds
Man made diamonds have been around for decades. In 1955, General Electric learned how use room-size machines to put carbon under extremely high pressure and make diamond dust and chips. The results were pure or big enough for gems or digital technology, but had industrial uses, such as diamond-tipped saws.
Such saws made it possible, for instance, to cut granite into countertops. Since then, scientists attempted to make a bigger and better diamond, without much success. Until, a former Bell Laboratories scientist discovered the secret. Now, Apollo man made diamonds, the pride of Apollo Diamond in Boston, have hit the jewelry market.
Jewelry is not the only industry interested in Apollo man made diamonds, however. Scientists are working on applications as well. Diamonds could be utilized in computers, lasers, cell phones, iPods, and a plethora of medical applications, as well. Of course, diamonds are expensive and rare, and are difficult to form into the shapes technology requires. Man made diamonds, however, can change all that.
Apollo man made diamonds are created using a method called chemical vapor deposition (CVD), which has been in existence for a long time, but previously only produced multi-crystalline structures. Apollo Diamond has discovered a method to produce a single-crystal diamond, which is the way diamonds occur in nature.
To create Apollo man made diamonds, hydrogen gas and methane flow through a chamber containing a diamond seed crystal, the type created via high pressure, high temperature. The hydrogen gas via heat combines with the methane to form a vapor that deposits onto the diamond seed. The vapor particles take on the structure of that diamond, growing the diamond, atom by atom, into a much bigger diamond.
CVD can produce clear and pure diamonds. It can also produce diamond wafers, similar to silicon wafers in computers. Boron can also be added to the process to allow the diamond to conduct a current, which turns the Apollo man made diamond into a semiconductor. The benefit of such diamonds is potentially huge: today's microchips are running hotter and hotter because more and more transistors are being crammed onto them. Silicon may not be able to keep up.
Use of diamonds in technology, was Apollo Diamond’s co-founders original reason for creating Apollo man made diamonds. After receiving his doctorate in materials science from Rutgers University, Robert Linares joined Bell Labs and worked on crystals for telecommunications.
In the 1980s, he started Spectrum Technology to make single-crystal Gallium Arsenide chips, one of the key components in cell phones. After becoming the US’s largest supplier, Linares sold the business and returned to his pet project: making CVD diamonds for cutting tools and electronics. Gemstones weren’t even a part of the equation.
The creation of Apollo man made diamonds, the size and quality for the jewelry market, was basically an accident. The CVD process worked, producing tiny diamond chips, so Linares formed Apollo Diamond and began working toward diamonds for industrial use. One day, he left a piece of diamond in some acid over the weekend, and the acid cleaned up the excess carbon--coal, really--that had remained on the diamond. The result was a colorless and pure diamond. There, in his garage on that Monday morning, Linares realized CVD could produce gemstones.
Once an Apollo man made diamond crystal is produced, which for a 5 carat diamond can take about a week, several options exist. The top can be cut off and cut into gems. Or, the diamond can be sliced into thin wafers for computer chips or other uses. Part of the diamond is returned to the chamber to make the next one, creating a self-fulfilling recycling plan.
Making Apollo man made diamonds has several positive aspects for the Boston company. The diamond jewelry market brings in about $60 billion a year. If Apollo could garner but a small percentage of the market, it would skyrocket. Military and private business uses can also be a boon. Most of the research for those applications, however, is still ongoing. For now, the jewelry market is Apollo Diamond’s main playing field.
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