Move over, cobalt, nickel and titanium; there’s a new material to build things at the nanoscale, and it’s more versatile than silicon. Like graphene and carbon nanotubes, nanodiamond is pure carbon, but with unique chemical and physical properties.
By varying the size of the diamond nanoparticles, we can alter their optical properties – think lasers and data transmission – as well as the thermal and electronic conductivity of the material. We’re only just beginning to understand all the things we can make with nanodiamond, from super hard, smooth surfaces to tiny biomedical probes that pick up protein cells like a sponge.
But the biggest news of all is we can now make them on demand, like a 3D printer. Five years ago, scientists discovered that they could flash carbon atoms into diamond, with a jolt of electricity lasting only a few milliseconds. Now they’ve built a nano-printing machine, that sprays out diamond nanoparticles on command. We’re finally getting to the point where we can build things out of atoms and molecules, layer by layer, rather than etching them out of sheets and wafers.
With this technology we’ll be able to make membranes that filter molecules and separate electrons; construct materials that reflect or absorb different wavelengths of light and radio waves; build superconducting ‘electron pipes’; and produce medical compounds that capture proteins and neutralize viruses and pathogens. The possibilities are endless.
It’s the start of a new wave of nanotech that will disrupt every traditional industry, from resources to logistics. Once we have figured out how to manipulate molecules to change them at will, converting one element into another without wasting energy, there will be no need for rare earths and scarce minerals. We’ll simply produce what we need from the stocks available. Recycling will take on a whole new meaning.
But in the meantime, when it comes to the nanoscale, diamonds are for everything!