For these diamonds, a dazzling array of usesDiamonds are a girl’s best friend, or so the saying goes. But does that include the flat circular black diamonds manufactured at the Iljin Diamond Co. factory in North Chungcheong province?
The factory’s owners probably don’t care. Many important uses for artificial diamonds exist besides jewelry. These diamonds shine in the semiconductor, space, weapons and communications industries.
Iljin’s glittering artificial diamonds are made by pumping methane gas into a disc-shaped casing attached to an electrode, which is heated to 1,000 degrees centigrade (1,832 F). Next, the carbon atom from the methane is separated to produce a thin diamond layer. Manufacturing one circular caseful of artificial diamonds, each measuring 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) thick with a 10-centimeter (3.94 inch) radius, takes about three days.
The end result is colored black due to the miniscule amount of graphite in it. Were it only a bit purer, it would be completely transparent. The discs are then cut with lasers to produce various shapes and sizes.
Artificial diamonds have been highlighted as the preeminent material of the 21st century. In many respects, the artificial diamond is just as good as the natural variety. It is extremely resilient, can transmit sound at supersonic speeds and withstand high levels of heat. These qualities have permitted its application to so many industrial uses.
The first artificial diamonds were produced in 1954, by General Electric. They were shaped like a grain and had a radius of 0.5 millimeter. Nowadays, artificial diamonds can be used to coat the surface of other metals, or form any shape the designer wishes.
As production of artificial diamonds in the past was more costly, they were used largely for cutting, grinding or polishing other metals. But today their uses have broadened. They are exceptionally useful as communication parts, because they emit built-up heat so as not to burn.
Weapons are another sector where artificial diamonds’ utility is being tested. The United States and European nations have experimented with a dome-shaped gem as a way to protect the sensitive infrared antennas on missile or fighter jets. Other metals break down the antenna when the dust and moisture in clouds clash with the high-speed manmade projectile.
Semiconductors made out of artificial diamonds will likely be introduced within the next five years. Japanese companies such as Sumitomo Electric Industries, Kobe Steel and Mitsubishi Materials Corp., as well as Japan’s National Institute for Research in Inorganic Materials recently announced its intention to develop a diamond semiconductor by 2008.
If a semiconductor’s capacity increases by some trillion bits, the silicon or copper material inside would not be able to withstand the intense heat. But artificial diamonds cool off five times faster than copper.
In addition, diamonds are capable of transmitting any form of light, whether it be infrared, x-rays, or ultraviolet rays, without bouncing any light off its surface.
Even at temperatures of 2,000 or 3,000 degrees centigrade, artificial diamonds remain intact ― so long as they do not contact oxygen, they will not burn. That is why they are an ideal material for space shuttle windows.
An artificial diamond can transfer sound at supersonic speed: 17.5 kilometers (11 miles) per second. Under the same circumstances, sound travels 340 meters (1,115 feet) per second through air, 5.1 kilometers per second through steel and 1.5 kilometers per second through the sea.
Optical cable and satellite communication networks exploit the sound transmission capability of artificial diamonds.
“Not too far down the road, artificial diamonds will be as popular as steel,” says Eun Kwang-yong, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
Technology for managing diamonds is improving every day, Mr. Eun says, and has come to a point where even low-quality natural diamonds can be enhanced into a top-notch item through simple changes in heat and pressure.
In recent years Iljin Diamond and General Electric have developed the technology to transform tarnished natural diamonds into jewelry that looks like new. To accomplish this, the low-quality diamand is heated at over 1,800 degrees centigrade, then subjected to extreme pressure for cleaning. This restored diamond looks so good, even experts have difficulty in guessing its previous condition.
Already widespread across industry and technology, artificial diamonds’ newfound glitter means they will soon become everyone's’ best friend ― including those women with their hearts set on the real thing.
by Park Bang-ju