Saturday, June 21, 2008

Diamond Semiconductors

I was reading an article in the NYTimes today about advances in synthetic diamonds and got curious about a comment about uses in manufacturing and semiconductors.

The information about use as semi-conductors was very interesting. As anybody who works with PC knows, the speed of silicon based chips like Intel/AMD are limited in processing speed by the heat they generate. They'll essentially burn up if they get too hot. To prevent that we put fans on the processor to cool things, or use other creative solutions, like water cooling or storing the PC in fridge for the ambitious over-clockers.

This link shows a big silicon crystal being grown, and the chips for computers are designed from wafers which are then thinly sliced from the big crystal - similar to slicing bologna from a big tube of meat.

It turns out diamond would be a far better semiconductor for chip use if it could similarly be grown in such a crystalline structure with enough impurities to allow passing of electricity. Apparently diamond processors could run at far higher speeds because they deal with the temperature issues much better without damaging the chip. And researchers are having success growing small crystals now (1 inch wafers).

On the intrigue in the diamond business and about the De Beers diamond cartel read this Wired story.

Something else interesting. Bacteria can survive under the huge pressures at which diamonds are formed.

In another surprising discovery, Hemley found that two common bacteria, including the intestinal microorganism E. coli, can survive under colossal pressure. He and his colleagues placed the organisms in water and then ratcheted up the diamond anvil. The water solution soon turned into a dense form of ice. Nevertheless, about 1 percent of the bacteria survived, with some bacteria even skittering around. Hemley says the research is more evidence that life as we know it may be capable of existing on other planets within our solar system....

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