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Diamonds and Lasers

June 6, 2007

A new technique uses diamonds and lasers to squeeze materials to high pressures.


Diamonds are a physicist’s best friend. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Pairing gem-quality diamonds with lasers sounds like fashion design, but it’s actually a new scientific technique for simulating high-pressure environments. Geophysicist Raymond Jeanloz of the University of California-Berkeley says you first compress a small amount of the material you’re studying between two diamonds. Then you send shockwaves through the material using powerful new lasers.

RAYMOND JEANLOZ (University of California-Berkeley):
With these very, very high-powered lasers, it’s possible to get to very high pressures that previously were effectively accessible only next to nuclear explosions.

At these high pressures, chemicals behave completely differently—for instance, water becomes metallic. Jeanloz says that outside of labs, these conditions would be found at the cores supergiant planets beyond our solar system. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.