The nanodiamonds are formed directly from a gas and require no surface to grow on.
The discovery holds promise for many uses in technology and industry, such as coating plastics with ultrafine diamond powder and making flexible electronics, implants, drug-delivery devices and more products that take advantage of diamond's exceptional properties.
Their investigation is published in the scientific journal
Beyond its applications, the discovery may offer some insight into our universe: an explanation of how nanodiamonds seen in space and found in meteorites may be formed.
"This is not a complex process: ethanol vapor at room temperature and pressure is converted to diamond," said
The process for making these small "forever stones" won't melt plastic so it is well suited for certain high-tech applications. Diamond, renowned for being hard, has excellent optical properties and the highest velocity of sound and thermal conductivity of any material.
Unlike the other form of carbon, graphite, diamond is a semiconductor, similar to silicon, which is the dominant material in the electronics industry, and gallium arsenide, which is used in lasers and other optical devices.
While the process is simple, finding the right concentrations and flows-what the researchers call the "sweet spot"-took time.
The other researchers involved were postdoctoral researcher
It usually requires high pressures and high temperatures to convert graphite to diamond or a combination of hydrogen gas and a heated substrate to grow diamond rather than graphite.
"But at the nanoscale, surface energy makes diamond more stable than graphite," Sankaran explained. "We thought if we could nucleate carbon clusters in the gas phase that were less than 5 nanometers, they would be diamond instead of graphite even at normal pressure and temperature."
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