Diamonds as compasses?
Lab-grown diamonds with an atomic defect are proving to be remarkable magnetic detectors.
The lab-grown red diamonds have a so-called ‘nitrogen vacancy defect’ - a gap in the atomic lattice at the heart of the diamond. Their sensitivity is so high that they are reported to be able to detect the passing of a car 300 metres away.
The discovery has been made by a team at the Oxfordshire-based Global Innovation Centre of Element Six, a subsidiary of De Beers which primarily focuses on developing diamond-edged cutting tools for use in heavy industry.
Such sensitivity could contribute greatly to fixing by geomagnetic fingerprinting - a technique already used indoors by some navigation devices. And the Innovation Centre's principal research scientist, Richard Bodkin, explains: 'If you have a device that is capable of sensing the surrounding magnetic fields, it also knows where it is, so once you can harness all of those technologies into a single device, there is no reason why driverless cars can’t be realised.' But those involved admit that such a development could be decades away.
At the moment, work is focused on improving magnetic sensitivity of the synthetic diamonds, which could also be used to replace MRI scanners with a helmet or handheld scanner. The Centre is also looking at how to use synthetic diamonds in quantum computing - promising computational power far in excess of today's machines.
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