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Diamonds are still in high demand worldwide. After all, they serve a variety of purposes in the mining, automotive, and acoustic equipment industries in addition to being used as jewellery. Lab-grown diamonds have become a popular and environmentally acceptable substitute for natural diamonds, a process that has historically been linked to exploitation. However, those procedures are still time-consuming and condition-specific as of right now. Researchers have created diamonds at standard atmospheric pressure using a novel method that has the potential to completely transform the sector.

Diamonds naturally form in the molten zone hundreds of miles below the surface of our planet, known as the Earth's mantle. The carbon atoms are compressed to the point where they begin to touch there, at temperatures as high as approximately 6700°F and pressures several thousand times higher than those of our atmosphere. This bond is what creates diamonds.

Similar harsh circumstances must be created in a laboratory to induce carbon dissolved in liquid metals, such as iron, to transform into a diamond around a tiny "seed"—a metal or gem that initiates the process—or starter diamond. For lab-grown diamonds, the high-pressure and high-temperature (HPHT) method is most frequently employed. It's not ideal though, as creating the necessary environment requires a lot of labor and can take a week or two. In addition, the size of the diamonds is influenced by the constituents; the largest is approximately one cubic centimetre in size.

However, a group headed by physical chemist Rodney Ruoff of the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea has developed a novel method, and they published their results in Nature. By using a novel technique, they were able to create diamonds in just 15 minutes and at standard atmospheric pressure.

The scientists used a 9-litre chamber to accomplish this. During the experiments, they discovered that a mixture of gallium, nickel, and iron, along with a small amount of silicon, was perfect for catalysing the growth of diamonds. This resulted from an earlier discovery that gallium could catalyse the conversion of methane to pure carbon, or graphene. In fact, in just fifteen minutes, the team was able to retrieve diamonds from the base using this mixture. A more complete film of mostly pure diamond with a small amount of silicon atoms formed in two and a half hours. 

Still, the procedure requires improvement. To begin with, the diamonds produced using this method are thousands of times smaller than those produced using HPHT, which renders them inappropriate for a variety of applications. Although the specifics of the procedure are still unknown, the possibility of creating diamonds under more favourable circumstances may cause the production of synthetic diamonds to increase.

"I've been thinking about new ways to grow diamonds for over ten years because I thought there might be unexpected (per 'conventional' thinking) ways to achieve this," Ruoff told LiveScience. "The world may have a better understanding of things like potential commercial impact in a year or two."

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