Diamonds are the hardest solid materials we know, and the ghostly space-age materials known as aerogels are the least dense. Looking for a challenge, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory decided to combine these substances and turn out a spongy, translucent version of a girl's best friend.
The result is a diamond aerogel, definitely the least dense diamond ever and perhaps one of the most valuable aerogels ever. Both aerogels and diamonds have interesting qualities, so a substance that combines their properties could be useful for, say, optics, quantum computing or structural engineering, among other possibilities.
Aerogels are porous, diffuse rigid materials, resembling a solid block of smoke in appearance and a chunk of Styrofoam in texture. They are used to insulate space suits, pick up cosmic particles, and even as home insulation. They're made by constructing a conventional gel and then removing the liquid though supercritical drying. The resulting material is only slightly more dense than air — aerogels themselves are 90 percent air — but retains the structure and rigidity of the non-liquid gel components.
To make a diamond aerogel, Peter J. Pauzauskie and colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory started with an amorphous carbon aerogel precursor and placed it in a diamond anvil cell, which is used to subject items to prodigious pressures. The team injected neon to prevent the aerogel from collapsing under the pressure, and subjected the substance to 21, 22.5 and 25.5 gigapascals — that's about 200 to 250 times the pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, in case you're wondering. (It takes about 18 GPa to make a synthetic diamond.)
The resulting aerogel, confirmed through electron and X-ray spectromicroscopy, had a diffuse yet solid nanodiamond matrix. It's transparent and pliable like plastic, and it even sparkles like the big ones, the researchers said. The aerogel possessed a bright and stable photoluminescence, which its precursor material did not. Diamonds emit electrons, so this particle emission could be useful for ultra-strong quantum information processors, the authors say.
The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
I wonder if the characteristics of this gel, apply thinly or maybe even in a thick manner would amplify solar panels as it may pick up from different angles and frequencies of sun light. My imagination wonders....hm.
Next big thing: Paris Hilton sleeping on Diamond Memory Foam
and Linsday Lohan going to jail for trying to steal it.
@Bubba There are silicone aerogels that might work better than diamond ones for your solar project.
my uncle is an engineer, and lives in livermore, I wonder if he worked on this...
wonder what the thermal properties are..,coat the next shuttle in this, pump gas tough... very tough heat protection you never take off
I bet it's extremely expensive.
Great, now we'll have to buy diamond aerogel rings for 10x the money.
I'm thinking more along the lines of a strong enough, yet light enough, material for something like cables to an orbiting space elevator. So far, the best material I've heard of is carbon-fiber. Sure, the cost would be(appropriatly) out of this world, but so would the possibilities!
Diamond Aerogels would be great to use for a TPS, thermal protection system, for atmospheric re-entry craft. of course there are a lot of stress and other requirements that would have to be checked out first. I would think that the coefficient of linear expansion is much less for diamond aerogels than it is for the ceramic TPS tiles of the Space Shuttles, so it may be used over the complete surface and not as a tile like system.
Touring the Columbia Space Shuttle when it was being refurbished at Boeing years ago in Palmdale Ca. I got to hold a aerogels-like Space Shuttle ceramic tile, it was very light.
So if these aerogels are filled with air. Extract the air from the diamond aerogel under vacuum and coat the surface with diamond. The result could actually be lighter than air.
I doubt this would be stable, or even possible, for large structures. But could maybe be done with sand-sized pieces. Bind these together (in another aerogel) and build lighter-than-air buildings.
Ron: Not really, diamond will burn at 700 degC, the space shuttle can reach over twice that on reentry. And since this is an aerogel the stuff will burn quick.
PLus the scale of these things are tiny. They can only be made in a diamond anvil now and that means these are 1~2 mm big at best.
The scary thing is when something like this is able to get mass produced, some fool gets the bright idea to weaponize it.