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Concept: Diamond


We report exceptional preservation of fossil wood buried deeply in a kimberlite pipe that intruded northwestern Canada’s Slave Province 53.3±0.6 million years ago (Ma), revealed during excavation of diamond source rock. The wood originated from forest surrounding the eruption zone and collapsed into the diatreme before resettling in volcaniclastic kimberlite to depths >300 m, where it was mummified in a sterile environment. Anatomy of the unpermineralized wood permits conclusive identification to the genus Metasequoia (Cupressaceae). The wood yields genuine cellulose and occluded amber, both of which have been characterized spectroscopically and isotopically. From cellulose δ(18)O and δ(2)H measurements, we infer that Early Eocene paleoclimates in the western Canadian subarctic were 12-17°C warmer and four times wetter than present. Canadian kimberlites offer Lagerstätte-quality preservation of wood from a region with limited alternate sources of paleobotanical information.

Concepts: Diamond, Provinces and territories of Canada, Canada, Wood, Pinophyta, Magma, Northwest Territories, Craton


Precise dating of diamond growth is required to understand the interior workings of the early Earth and the deep carbon cycle. Here we report Sm-Nd isotope data from 26 individual garnet inclusions from 26 harzburgitic diamonds from Venetia, South Africa. Garnet inclusions and host diamonds comprise two compositional suites formed under markedly different conditions and define two isochrons, one Archaean (2.95 Ga) and one Proterozoic (1.15 Ga). The Archaean diamond suite formed from relatively cool fluid-dominated metasomatism during rifting of the southern shelf of the Zimbabwe Craton. The 1.8 billion years younger Proterozoic diamond suite formed by melt-dominated metasomatism related to the 1.1 Ga Umkondo Large Igneous Province. The results demonstrate that resolving the time of diamond growth events requires dating of individual inclusions, and that there was a major change in the magmatic processes responsible for harzburgitic diamond formation beneath Venetia from the Archaean to the Proterozoic.Dating of inclusions within diamonds is used to reconstruct Earth’s geodynamic history. Here, the authors report isotope data on individual garnet inclusions within diamonds from Venetia, South Africa, showing that two suites of diamonds define two isochrons, showing the importance of dating individual inclusions.

Concepts: Igneous rock, Carbon, Diamond, Petrology, Magma, Granite, Archean, Kimberlite


Carbon exhibits a large number of allotropes and its phase behaviour is still subject to significant uncertainty and intensive research. The hexagonal form of diamond, also known as lonsdaleite, was discovered in the Canyon Diablo meteorite where its formation was attributed to the extreme conditions experienced during the impact. However, it has recently been claimed that lonsdaleite does not exist as a well-defined material but is instead defective cubic diamond formed under high pressure and high temperature conditions. Here we report the synthesis of almost pure lonsdaleite in a diamond anvil cell at 100 GPa and 400 °C. The nanocrystalline material was recovered at ambient and analysed using diffraction and high resolution electron microscopy. We propose that the transformation is the result of intense radial plastic flow under compression in the diamond anvil cell, which lowers the energy barrier by “locking in” favourable stackings of graphene sheets. This strain induced transformation of the graphitic planes of the precursor to hexagonal diamond is supported by first principles calculations of transformation pathways and explains why the new phase is found in an annular region. Our findings establish that high purity lonsdaleite is readily formed under strain and hence does not require meteoritic impacts.

Concepts: Condensed matter physics, Carbon, Graphite, Materials science, Diamond, Carbon forms, Diamond anvil cell, High pressure


Glasses and single crystals have traditionally been used as optical windows. Recently, there has been a high demand for harder and tougher optical windows that are able to endure severe conditions. Transparent polycrystalline ceramics can fulfill this demand because of their superior mechanical properties. It is known that polycrystalline ceramics with a spinel structure in compositions of MgAl2O4 and aluminum oxynitride (γ-AlON) show high optical transparency. Here we report the synthesis of the hardest transparent spinel ceramic, i.e. polycrystalline cubic silicon nitride (c-Si3N4). This material shows an intrinsic optical transparency over a wide range of wavelengths below its band-gap energy (258 nm) and is categorized as one of the third hardest materials next to diamond and cubic boron nitride (cBN). Since the high temperature metastability of c-Si3N4 in air is superior to those of diamond and cBN, the transparent c-Si3N4 ceramic can potentially be used as a window under extremely severe conditions.

Concepts: Optical fiber, Silicon, Diamond, Silicon carbide, Ceramic materials, Boron nitride, Transparent materials, Silicon nitride


The shock-induced transition from graphite to diamond has been of great scientific and technological interest since the discovery of microscopic diamonds in remnants of explosively driven graphite. Furthermore, shock synthesis of diamond and lonsdaleite, a speculative hexagonal carbon polymorph with unique hardness, is expected to happen during violent meteor impacts. Here, we show unprecedented in situ X-ray diffraction measurements of diamond formation on nanosecond timescales by shock compression of pyrolytic as well as polycrystalline graphite to pressures from 19 GPa up to 228 GPa. While we observe the transition to diamond starting at 50 GPa for both pyrolytic and polycrystalline graphite, we also record the direct formation of lonsdaleite above 170 GPa for pyrolytic samples only. Our experiment provides new insights into the processes of the shock-induced transition from graphite to diamond and uniquely resolves the dynamics that explain the main natural occurrence of the lonsdaleite crystal structure being close to meteor impact sites.

Concepts: Scientific method, Crystal, Science, Carbon, Graphite, Materials science, Diamond, Impact event


Van der Waals heterostructures are comprised of stacked atomically thin two-dimensional crystals and serve as novel materials providing unprecedented properties. However, the random natures in positions and shapes of exfoliated two-dimensional crystals have required the repetitive manual tasks of optical microscopy-based searching and mechanical transferring, thereby severely limiting the complexity of heterostructures. To solve the problem, here we develop a robotic system that searches exfoliated two-dimensional crystals and assembles them into superlattices inside the glovebox. The system can autonomously detect 400 monolayer graphene flakes per hour with a small error rate (<7%) and stack four cycles of the designated two-dimensional crystals per hour with few minutes of human intervention for each stack cycle. The system enabled fabrication of the superlattice consisting of 29 alternating layers of the graphene and the hexagonal boron nitride. This capacity provides a scalable approach for prototyping a variety of van der Waals superlattices.

Concepts: Van der Waals force, Graphite, Assembly language, Diamond, Problem solving, Searching, Cycle, Boron nitride


Cubic boron nitride (cBN) is a well known superhard material that has a wide range of industrial applications. Nanostructuring of cBN is an effective way to improve its hardness by virtue of the Hall-Petch effect–the tendency for hardness to increase with decreasing grain size. Polycrystalline cBN materials are often synthesized by using the martensitic transformation of a graphite-like BN precursor, in which high pressures and temperatures lead to puckering of the BN layers. Such approaches have led to synthetic polycrystalline cBN having grain sizes as small as ∼14 nm (refs 1, 2, 4, 5). Here we report the formation of cBN with a nanostructure dominated by fine twin domains of average thickness ∼3.8 nm. This nanotwinned cBN was synthesized from specially prepared BN precursor nanoparticles possessing onion-like nested structures with intrinsically puckered BN layers and numerous stacking faults. The resulting nanotwinned cBN bulk samples are optically transparent with a striking combination of physical properties: an extremely high Vickers hardness (exceeding 100 GPa, the optimal hardness of synthetic diamond), a high oxidization temperature (∼1,294 °C) and a large fracture toughness (>12 MPa m(½), well beyond the toughness of commercial cemented tungsten carbide, ∼10 MPa m(½)). We show that hardening of cBN is continuous with decreasing twin thickness down to the smallest sizes investigated, contrasting with the expected reverse Hall-Petch effect below a critical grain size or the twin thickness of ∼10-15 nm found in metals and alloys.

Concepts: Diamond, Young's modulus, Boron, Boron nitride, Hardness, Superhard materials, Borazon, Heterodiamond


Hexagonal close-packed iron (hcp-Fe) is a main component of Earth’s inner core. The difference in density between hcp-Fe and the inner core in the Preliminary Reference Earth Model (PREM) shows a density deficit, which implies an existence of light elements in the core. Sound velocities then provide an important constraint on the amount and kind of light elements in the core. Although seismological observations provide density-sound velocity data of Earth’s core, there are few measurements in controlled laboratory conditions for comparison. We report the compressional sound velocity (V P) of hcp-Fe up to 163 GPa and 3000 K using inelastic x-ray scattering from a laser-heated sample in a diamond anvil cell. We propose a new high-temperature Birch’s law for hcp-Fe, which gives us the V P of pure hcp-Fe up to core conditions. We find that Earth’s inner core has a 4 to 5% smaller density and a 4 to 10% smaller V P than hcp-Fe. Our results demonstrate that components other than Fe in Earth’s core are required to explain Earth’s core density and velocity deficits compared to hcp-Fe. Assuming that the temperature effects on iron alloys are the same as those on hcp-Fe, we narrow down light elements in the inner core in terms of the velocity deficit. Hydrogen is a good candidate; thus, Earth’s core may be a hidden hydrogen reservoir. Silicon and sulfur are also possible candidates and could show good agreement with PREM if we consider the presence of some melt in the inner core, anelasticity, and/or a premelting effect.

Concepts: Iron, Earth, Chemical element, Uranium, Diamond, Alloy, Outer core, Inner core


Clusters of diamond-phase carbon, known as nanodiamonds, exhibit novel mechanical, optical and biological properties that have elicited interest for a wide range of technological applications. Although diamond is predicted to be more stable than graphite at the nanoscale, extreme environments are typically used to produce nanodiamonds. Here we show that nanodiamonds can be stably formed in the gas phase at atmospheric pressure and neutral gas temperatures <100 °C by dissociation of ethanol vapour in a novel microplasma process. Addition of hydrogen gas to the process allows in flight purification by selective etching of the non-diamond carbon and stabilization of the nanodiamonds. The nanodiamond particles are predominantly between 2 and 5 nm in diameter, and exhibit cubic diamond, n-diamond and lonsdaleite crystal structures, similar to nanodiamonds recovered from meteoritic residues. These results may help explain the origin of nanodiamonds in the cosmos, and offer a simple and inexpensive route for the production of high-purity nanodiamonds.

Concepts: Oxygen, Water, Hydrogen, Carbon, Graphite, Pressure, Gas, Diamond


Disordered structures of boron nitride (BN), graphite, boron carbide (BC), and boron carbon nitride (BCN) systems are considered important precursor materials for synthesis of superhard phases in these systems. However, phase transformation of such materials can be achieved only at extreme pressure-temperature conditions, which is irrelevant to industrial applications. Here, the phase transition from disordered nanocrystalline hexagonal (h)BN to superhard wurtzitic (w)BN was found at room temperature under a pressure of 6.7 GPa after applying large plastic shear in a rotational diamond anvil cell (RDAC) monitored by in situ synchrotron X-ray diffraction (XRD) measurements. However, under hydrostatic compression to 52.8 GPa, the same hBN sample did not transform to wBN but probably underwent a reversible transformation to a high-pressure disordered phase with closed-packed buckled layers. The current phase-transition pressure is the lowest among all reported direct-phase transitions from hBN to wBN at room temperature. Usually, large plastic straining leads to disordering and amorphization; here, in contrast, highly disordered hBN transformed to crystalline wBN. The mechanisms of strain-induced phase transformation and the reasons for such a low transformation pressure are discussed. Our results demonstrate a potential of low pressure-room temperature synthesis of superhard materials under plastic shear from disordered or amorphous precursors. They also open a pathway of phase transformation of nanocrystalline materials and materials with disordered and amorphous structures under extensive shear.

Concepts: Iron, Fundamental physics concepts, Carbon, Pressure, Diamond, Boron nitride, Diamond anvil cell, Superhard materials