Hard to Beat

With so many commercial uses, could diamonds be the new plastic?
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the June 2006 issue of . Subscribe »

If the movie The Graduate were remade today, the advice Benjamin Braddock receives from a family friend about the future wouldn't be "plastics"--it would likely be "diamonds."

The new front-runner in the race for the material of tomorrow, a diamond is the hardest natural material. It has high thermal conductivity, chemical inertness, high density, high stiffness and high transparency. Soon enough, your computer and cell phone will prob-ably run on diamond processors instead of silicon ones.

"Because diamond is so much more robust a material [than] silicon, it could revolutionize electronics," says Russell Hemley, senior staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution. Hemley leads a Carnegie project that's creating real diamonds in the laboratory by chemical vapor deposition, or CVD. It grows diamonds crystal by crystal in various shapes and sizes. And Carnegie is not alone; various businesses are producing diamonds in labs.

This new supply of diamonds has allowed entrepreneurs to dream up new and innovative ways to use them. For example, in 1999, Swiss Diamond USA in Parsippany, New Jersey, encountered inventor Stephan Hort at an inventors' fair in Geneva, Switzerland. At the time, Hort was showcasing a diamond-reinforced nonstick composite. The company partnered with Hort in 2002 and now creates cookware with diamond as the main ingredient. Through nano-technology, diamond crystals reinforce a nonstick polymer that is fused to the cookware. The result is a set of pots and pans that conduct heat five times faster than copper cookware and feature a nonstick surface that's virtually indestructible.

Cookware isn't the only place you can find diamond-enhanced products. Your local hardware store has been carrying diamond saw blades and drill bits for years. And UK-based audio speaker maker Bowers & Wilkins has developed speakers with tweeter domes made from CVD diamond to take advantage of diamond's stiffness.

Cutting, abrasion resistance, heat sinks and transmitting are all applications where diamonds sparkle. With so much innovation going on, you can bet diamonds will be a best friend of consumers and businesses for years to come.

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