September 25, 2022

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Nano diamonds from plastic bottles

Research ranging from recycling science to astrophysics will make you look at used plastic bottles with different eyes. An international team from Germany and California obtained miniature diamonds by bringing in Polyethylene o PET (a material commonly used for plastic bottles and food trays) under extreme pressure and temperature conditions.

Something similar is happening inside gas giant planets like Neptune and Uranus, where diamond showers could be more common than expected. The results of the study were published on science progress.

Inspired by the planets. For some time now, scientists have been convinced that extreme pressure inside Uranus or Neptune, thousands of kilometers deep, can split the hydrocarbons that make up these gas giants, causing diamonds to form. In 2017, a team of researchers from Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (Hzdr) and the University of Rostock in Germany – along with colleagues from the École Polytechnique in France and the Slac National Accelerator Laboratory in the US – were able to replicate for the first time this process. In the laboratory, expose polystyrene (or polystyrene), a type of plastic also composed of hydrogen and carbon, with shock waves generated by optical lasers, to obtain pressures and temperatures similar to those in the interior of Uranus and Neptune.

At more than 4,700 °C and 150 GPa (conditions believed to exist at a depth of 10,000 km in the two planets), it was possible to observe for a moment hail of diamonds A few millionths of a millimeter, as it formed inside the plastic. However, the main component found in the gas giants, which is thought to encourage diamond formation, was missing: oxygen. So scientists came up with PET, a ubiquitous plastic that contains a good mix of not only hydrogen and carbon but also oxygen. And it is necessary to recycle.

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Diamonds are everywhere. In this second experiment, five years after the first, the team repeated the previous conditions, adding, however, the observation technique X-ray diffraction To understand how quickly crystals form and their size. It immediately became clear that oxygen facilitated the formation of nanodiamonds, which were created under conditions of lower pressure and temperature than in the first test.

Therefore, scholars are convinced of that, just Thanks to the oxygen, Diamond showers on gas giants are more common than previously thought. Inside Uranus and Neptune, diamonds will form much larger than diamonds obtained in the laboratory. Over time, it will sink into the lower ice layers to eventually position itself around the solid core of the planets.

Not only. This process, in particular the separation of carbon from oxygen and hydrogen, could create conditions for the formation of these planets super ionic water, a phase in which water is liquid and solid, and it is impossible to repeat it on Earth. It is believed that this water, which is formed only under very harsh environmental conditions, fills the mantles of Uranus, Neptune and other gas giants. The ability to conduct electricity could explain some properties of the magnetic field of the outer planets of the solar system.

For plastic bottles… Complex and expensive, the nanodiamond formation process is still untapped in the massive recycling of PET. But if you succeed, the applications will not lack. Due to its chemical and physical properties, nanodiamonds are already used in various fields, from quantum electronics to surgery; In medicine, they are used in the administration of chemotherapy drugs, they also facilitate the production of hydrogen and are useful in the processes of cleaning and purifying water.

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