Scientists convert plastic into nanodiamonds in ‘stellar’ breakthrough

Anh Nguyen

Anh Nguyen

Ivan Bandura via Unsplash

Since the 1970s, scientists have speculated that diamonds may actually rain down on some planets, including our planet Earth. Over 1 billion miles from the Earth, a vast amount of diamonds can be found on several planets, such as Neptune and Uranus.

In 2017, researchers in Germany and California discovered a way to replicate those diamonds with planetary conditions in the laboratory by using polystyrene – a type of plastic – to create nanodiamonds.

When scientist Dominik Kraus and his colleagues first attempted making nanodiamonds with polystyrene, which contains the same elements of carbon and hydrogen found on Neptune and Uranus, they recognised one missing vital chemical ingredient which was oxygen.

As a result, the scientists turned to PET, for its good balance of not only carbon and hydrogen but also oxygen, to make it a closer chemical proxy to the ice giants than polystyrene.

Kraus and his associates took a piece of PET, put it through the same 2017 experimental procedures, and added something called small angle X-ray diffraction to check out the speed and size of the diamond growth.

A few billion crystallites worth of tiny diamonds were also extracted by the researchers from a single X-ray beam. However, according to Kraus, this isn’t sufficient for applications like chemical catalysts or diamond quantum sensors.

The scientists hope the process will be scaled up to serve more purposes, and be the first step to a complex but effective way to recycle plastic.

Anh Nguyen

Anh Nguyen

Anh Nguyen is a graduate of Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities with a major in English linguistics and literature. She is a writing enthusiast with a passion for culture, languages, and the environment.


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