A 50,000-year-old meteorite could revolutionize electronics

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Diamonds formed 50,000 years ago during a high-energy shockwave from an asteroid could hold the key to better electronics and faster battery charging, scientists say.

An international study published this month found that never-before-seen carbon structures formed when an asteroid collided with Earth have “unique and exceptional properties.”

Scientists from Europe and the US used advanced crystallography and spectroscopy to examine the mineral, called “Lonsdaleite,” first discovered in an iron meteorite found more than 100 years ago in the Canyon Diablo in the Arizona desert.

The meteorite collided with Earth about 50,000 years ago, and the extreme heat and pressure of the impact’s shock wave forged parts into Lonsdaleite.

The Canyon Diablo meteorite collided with Earth 50,000 years ago, forming the wonder mineral.

It was first believed to be a pure but unconventional diamond, but the new study found that the Lonsdaleite in the Canyon Diablo meteorite actually contains a complex nanostructure made up of intertwined diamond and “graphene-like” structures, the team found.

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Graphene is a hexagonal structure just one carbon atom thick – a million times thinner than a human hair. It is as light as a feather and yet as strong as a diamond, transparent and yet highly conductive.

But growing traditional graphene uses toxic chemicals and extremely high temperatures, and once made it is susceptible to corrosion.

Graphene is also highly conductive and its electrical properties cannot be altered or turned off.

Australian scientists have already successfully created Lonsdaleite in a room temperature lab.

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Before that, the only way to make Lonsdaleite was diamond anvils heated to 400 degrees Celsius, or gunpowder and compressed air used to fire graphene at walls at nearly 25,000 mph.

Researchers now know much more about how Lonsdaleite is formed and how to detect the unique nanostructures with simple instruments.

The Barringer Crater, where the meteorite was discovered in 1891.

Now that those diamond-graphite nanostructures have been discovered in Lonsdaleite, the researchers believe this will open the door to new materials with broad engineering applications.

Study co-author and professor Christoph Salzmann of University College London said the new discovery could allow scientists to design unique materials that are ultra-hard yet malleable, while also inputting precise electrical properties.

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“The discovery has therefore opened the door to new carbon materials with exciting mechanical and electronic properties that could result in new applications ranging from abrasives and electronics to nanomedicine and laser technology,” Professor Salzmann said in a statement.

Researchers have also raised the possibility of using Lonsdaleite to charge fast-charging devices such as electric cars, or for hyper-precise surgery or drug delivery mechanisms.

But University of Sydney Professor David McKenzie, one of the researchers who made Lonsdaleite at room temperature, told UKTN newspaper those claims were ”highly speculative”.

“Sounds a bit exaggerated,” said Professor McKenzie.

“We definitely feel that more work needs to be done before those claims can be justified.”

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