Celebrating Spartans: MSU lab takes diamond-making to next level

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – It’s the sparkle and the appeal…diamond…a gem that’s sought after in society and is the stuff of legend in movies.

When you think of diamonds, often times the glitz and glam springs to mind but what if the idea of diamond took the next step?

“We’ve actually been growing diamond here since 1987 or so, so we’ve hit 30 years now,” said Michigan State University Electrical & Computer Engineering Professor Timothy Grotjohn.

At the Fraunhofer laboratory, engineers take diamond making to a whole new level, transforming university research into industrial products including electronic devices.

“That means we have to cut the diamond…usually we cut the diamond with a high powered laser, we polish the diamond and then we actually build it into devices,” Grotjohn stated.

Devices? Yes, you heard that right.

Professor Grotjohn, Professor Thomas Schuelke and a crew of highly skilled engineers at Michigan State University create devices made of diamond that could be used in computers, smart phones, electronic cars just to name a few.

“Diamond will be the future electronic material,” said Michigan State University Professor Thomas Schuelke, Executive Director of Fraunhofer Laboratory.

But why use diamond rather than another material?

Schuelke says diamond is unique in multiple ways…

”They are tough, they are hard, they are optically transparent, they are very thermally conductive…they have all the properties that you expect from a perfect diamond,” Schuelke added.

It takes tons of time and pressure to create a diamond naturally but Schuelke says the diamond they grow in the Fraunhofer lab on MSU’s campus, is more pure and clean.

“We use a lot of hydrogen and a little bit of methane so you’re really creating diamond out of methane as opposed to digging it up from the earth like how a natural diamond is mined,” Schuelke stated.

Schuelke says they produce diamond at low pressure and high temperatures that reach nearly 700 degrees…compared to a diamond grown in nature that’s created by high pressure and soaring temperatures.

“We are trying to drive the technology forward so that you can basically make it faster and larger and at higher purities,” said Schuelke.

“So…improve technology through the use of diamond,” Grotjohn added.

Both professors say there are many ways a diamond is created and transformed into devices in the lab…from a high powered laser…to devices that reach extremely high temps and it doesn’t take too long to grow either.

“In 10 hours you can create something that is as thick as a millimeter…so you grow a thickness of a hair in an hour,” said Schuelke.

Although the focus at Fraunhofer is advancing technology through the use of diamond electronics, these engineers can still create a little sparkle as well…it would just take a tad longer.

“For example, if you wanted to cut a 1 karat gemstone, you have to grow it about 5 millimeters thick and that would take a week or so,” Grotjohn stated.

As far as the cost of diamond electronics, Schuelke and Grotjohn says it varies but is comparable to electronics on the market now.

But, their primary goal is to move technology forward by taking diamond making to the next level.

“There’s this potential of diamond which could be the not the next generation but after that generation the material that makes basically our life work with all the electronics that we need,” Schuelke added.
So the next time you wear a watch or chat on your smart phone, you may be carrying around a little extra sparkle…courtesy of a Spartan.

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