While studying diamonds inside an ancient meteorite, scientists have discovered a strange intertwining microscopic structure that has never been seen before.
The structure, which is an interlocking form of graphite and diamond, has unique properties that could one day be used to develop ultra-fast charging or new types of electronics, the researchers say.
The diamond structures were locked inside the Canyon Diablo meteorite that crashed into Earth 50,000 years ago and was first discovered in Arizona in 1891. The diamonds in this meteorite are not what most people are familiar with. The most famous diamonds were formed. (will open in a new tab) about 90 miles (150 kilometers) below the Earth’s surface, where temperatures rise to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 degrees Celsius). Carbon (will open in a new tab) atoms (will open in a new tab) inside these diamonds are cubic shapes.
In contrast, the diamonds inside the Canyon Diablo meteorite are known as lonsdaleite, named after British crystallographer Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, the first female professor at University College London, and have a hexagonal crystal structure. These diamonds are formed only at very high pressures and temperatures. (will open in a new tab). While scientists have successfully made lonsdaleite in the lab using gunpowder and compressed air to propel graphite disks at 24,100 km/h, otherwise lonsdaleite only forms when asteroids hit the Earth at extremely high speeds.
On the subject: Diamond recovered from the depths of the Earth contains a never-before-seen mineral (will open in a new tab)
While studying lonsdaleite in a meteorite, researchers discovered something strange. Instead of the pure hexagonal structures they expected, the researchers found outgrowths of another carbon-based material called graphene bonded to diamond. These growths are known as diaphytes. (will open in a new tab), and inside the meteorite they form a particularly intriguing layered pattern. Between these layers are “stacking errors,” meaning the layers don’t line up perfectly, the researchers said in a statement. (will open in a new tab).
The discovery of diaphytes in meteorite lonsdaleite suggests that this material can be found in other carbonaceous material, the scientists in the study write, meaning it could be readily available for use as a resource. The discovery also gives researchers a better idea of the pressures and temperatures required to create the structure.
Graphene is made up of sheets of carbon one atom thick arranged in hexagons. While research into this material is still ongoing, it has many potential applications. Because he is light as a feather and strong as a diamond; both transparent and highly conductive; and 1 million times thinner than a human hair (will open in a new tab)The researchers said it could one day be used for more targeted drugs, smaller electronics with lightning-fast charging speeds, or faster, more flexible technologies.
And now that researchers have discovered these growths of graphene inside meteorites, it’s possible to learn more about how they form, and thus how to get them in the lab.
“Through the controlled build-up of layers in structures, it should be possible to create materials that are both superhard and ductile, and have controllable electronic properties from conductor to insulator,” said Christoph Salzmann, a chemist at University College London. and co-author of an article describing the study, the statement said. (will open in a new tab).
The strange new structures were described July 22 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (will open in a new tab).
Originally published on Live Science.