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January 12th, 2011
Converting graphite into diamond has been a long held dream of alchemists the world over. In the modern era, materials scientists have puzzled over this process because it's hard to work out why the conversion is so hard.
Measure the free energy of graphite and diamond and you'll find they are more or less the same. That implies that converting one into the other ought to be easy.
And yet in experiments, the conversion only works at temperatures well above 1700K and at pressures in excess of 12 GigaPascals. It's no wonder, then, that diamond is so rare and valuable
But why should graphite be so reluctant to make the change? Today, Rustam Khaliullin at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and a few buddies say they think they know why. These guys have created a computer model of the process which has identified the reason why diamond is so reluctant to form.
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