Interesting post, Jon. I know I'm probably looking at this a bit differently than most of the Design News audience, but machining diamonds to make some sort of machine? That seems like a waste, not to mention, wouldn't the cost factor be an issue given how expensive these gems are?
Not to worry, Beth. The NIST researchers used synthetic diamonds produced at microscopic sizes, so you might still have a shot at a new ring or pendant. NIST won't try to corner the market for mined dimaonds and I doubt it would pay to carve such diamonds into small slices for future MEMS devices. When I worked at DuPont in 1969, a chemist in the nextlab worked on methods to separate synthetic diamonds by size. Because the diamonds were tiny, he tried several techniques to suspend diamonds of different weights at individual levels, or "bands," in a fluid with a variety of flow rates. I don't know how the research turned out.
DuPont's interest in diamonds stemmed from a desire to use explosives in new ways. In this case, to create shock waves that turned graphite into tiny industrial diamonds, not gemstones. DuPont made explosives and I worked in the Explosives Department in the Gibbstown, NJ lab, now long gone. Thankfully the diamond "blasts" occurred at a testing ground away from our labs. --Jon
Thanks for a great article, Jon. I'm certain the good folks at NIST are characterizing their new MEMS materials, but I'm concerned that at least at the macroscopic level, building a complex machine out of diamond wouldn't fair very well. The extreme hardness of diamond would be similar to making gears and shafts out of cast iron -- a very hard material that is too brittle to withstand the stresses involved with machines.
However, I'm intrigued with the creation of square objects with diamond. This reminds me of the very popular "Minecraft" game that permits players to create entire cities complete with complex machinery out of square blocks. When NIST perfects the square diamond MEMS fabrication technique, there will be an army of teenage engineers standing by to create.
From what the NIST people said, it seems more likely they will use diamonds to form the "block" on an engine, for example, rather than the pistons, cams, and gears. Some of the photos on the Sandia Labs Web site show what can happen as silicon "bearings" and "axles" wear. Lots of wear and tear that leads to catastrophic failure. Diamond might make a better substrate rather than a wholesale replacement for silicon in every MEMS device.
For anyone interested in Minecraft, find the Minecraft site at: http://www.minecraft.net/. --Jon
Do any MEMS devices use a lubricant (solid or liquid)? This could be a big deciding factor on how different materials will work together or with themselves. Dissimilar materials might last longer if they run against each other. For instance, at the macro sizes, 2 pieces of stainless or aluminum rubbing together easily causes galling.
As the technique is good at making rectangular things, I suggest the creation of a machine tool in microminiature size. Such a tool needs a programmable motion X-Y Table. One design that might fit the bill is a very miniaturized version of US Patent #4,676,492,1985. The general geometry enables rectilinear motion in X-Y, transfer of vertical loads directly to substrate (there are no piled up stages), and the drives for the miniaturised system can be electrostatic or any other suitable prime movers. Electromagnetic would probably be too bulky.
To keep the product in place upon the X-Y table while being machined or processed, magnetics could be used, or quantum grabbing if the system can be cooled to about -200 C. The same quantum grabbing can also be used as prime mover.
Great article. It's neat to see something like this that is relatively new. So new, it appears the engineers are really saying, "Cool...so what does it do?" I enjoy hearing about technology that is so recently developed that engineers aren't really sure what to do with it. I think this is where a technology like this can grow into something that is much bigger than the discovering engineers believe.
It won't take long before everyone will have access to diamond made machines, they certainly have the technology for it. You can even find lab created diamond rings these days, so it's just a matter of time before that happens.
At this year's MD&M West show, lots of material suppliers are talking about new formulations for wearables and things that stick to the skin, whether it's adhesives, wound dressings, skin patches and other drug delivery devices, or medical electronics.
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