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How do you bend a diamond?

By David, 13 February 2020 News

Diamond held by pliers.

This is not how to bend a diamond!
Image: ©istock.com/BrendanHunter

Diamonds are amazing crystals. A repeating pattern of pure carbon atoms, they’re famous for being the hardest substance in the world. Yet, an Australian team of scientists have just managed to bend diamonds. So how did they do it?

First, you need very special diamonds. Researchers from University of Technology Sydney and Curtin University grew several tiny needles of diamond. These needles were extremely small – much shorter than a hair is wide, and maybe only 50 atoms wide.

To bend the needles, the team used static electricity. As the charge built up, the needles were pushed harder and harder until they broke. Many of the needles snapped. But some of them stayed in one piece and bent over instead!

To try and understand what had happened, the researchers recreated a needle in a computer program. As the needle started to bend, the atoms inside rearranged themselves into a different pattern. It had changed from diamond into a different substance: one that no-one had ever seen before.

The team have named this brand-new form of carbon ‘O8’. They don’t know much about it, except that it appears stable and it’s less dense than diamond. It looks like there’s plenty more to learn about bendy diamonds.


Convertible carbon

Carbon is a very adaptable element, and its atoms can bond to each other in lots of different ways. As a result, there are several different forms that pure carbon can take. These forms are known as allotropes.

Diamond is probably the most famous allotrope of carbon. You might also know about graphite – the carbon used in pencil leads. Carbon can also form long, thin cylinders known as nanotubes, and soccer-ball shapes called buckyballs. O8 is the newest carbon allotrope to be added to the list!


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