Friday, June 20, 2008

Diamond Films from Tequila!

If you were looking for a new way to make semiconducting diamond, you might not have thought of starting with tequila. But the potent spirit turns out to be excellent raw material.
Diamond is normally an electrical insulator, but becomes a semiconductor when doped with the right impurities. Diamond film is tougher than silicon, so it could be useful for devices that must operate at high temperatures or under other harsh conditions.
However, diamond films are expensive and difficult to make. They are produced by vaporising organic material, and then controlling how the carbon atoms crystallise onto a surface. The process works best if the material contains carbon and oxygen in roughly equal parts, as well as some hydrogen.
Now a team of researchers led by Javier Morales of the University of Nueva Leon near Monterrey in Mexico have shown that ordinary tequila does the job nicely. They injected the heated vapour from 80-proof "tequila blanco" into a low-pressure chamber. Measurements confirmed that the carbon deposited on test surfaces had a diamond structure ( "Some kinds of tequila seem naturally to have the right mix of atoms," says Morales. Other forms of alcohol have also worked, although it's not clear if this is faster or more reliable than using common precursors such as acetone.
"The result is certainly funny, but the process seems reasonable," says physicist Rudolf Pfeiffer of the University of Vienna in Austria. "I don't know of any previous attempts to make diamonds from drinks."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Diamond films: The Biomaterial of the 21st Century

Due to its excellent biocompatibility, diamond has been called the "Biomaterial of the 21st Century". There is a huge demand for medical implants for almost every body part you can think of. The market for medical implant devices in the U.S. alone is estimated to be $23 billion per year and it is expected to grow by about 10% annually for the next few years. Current medical implants, such as orthopedic implants and heart valves, are made of titanium and stainless steel alloys, primarily because they are biocompatible. Unfortunately, in many cases these metal alloys with a life span of 10-15 years may wear out within the lifetime of the patient. With recent advances in industrial synthesis of diamond and diamond-like carbon film bringing prices down significantly, researchers are increasingly experimenting with diamond coatings for medical implants. On the upside, the wear resistance of diamond is dramatically superior to titanium and stainless steel. On the downside, because it attracts coagulating proteins, its blood clotting response is slightly worse than these materials and the possibility has been raised that nanostructured surface features of diamond might abrade tissue. That's not something you necessarily want to have in your artificial knee or hip joints (although some of the currently used implant materials cause problems as well). Researchers have now run simulations (see video below) that show that thin layers of ice could persist on specially treated diamond coatings at temperatures well above body temperature. The soft and hydrophilic ice multilayers might enable diamond-coated medical devices that reduce abrasion and are highly resistant to protein absorption.