For centuries, diamonds have fascinated humans with their unique origin and natural beauty, mostly in the form of jewellery. But as raw material, these stones have an unrivalled ability to deliver extreme performance across a variety of applications.
In a recently published podcast (SciPod) — “Exploring Diamond’s Potential in High-Power, High-Temperature Electronics” — Joana Catarina Mendes, Luís Nero Alves and Debarati Mukherjee (researchers from IT in Aveiro) outlined the key qualities that make diamond a promising player in the electronics industry.
“Due to its extremely high thermal conductivity, diamond can be used to create high-temperature and high-power devices. Because pure diamond is a good electrical insulator, while diamond doped with other atoms can act as a semiconductor, it is an ideal material for fabricating transistors and integrated circuits”, they explain.
Integrated circuits are fundamental components of modern devices — we commonly know them as electronic chips — and they contain a series of transistors built on semiconductor material, typically silicon.
As technology becomes increasingly smaller, faster and more powerful, operating conditions become too extreme for silicon devices, and it requires innovative heat spreaders to prevent frequently occurring electronic failures.
That’s why scientists are turning to diamond. As the world’s hardest known material, it can sustain incredibly high temperatures and pressure, and resist most environmental damage, making it well-suited to consumer electronics, and particularly high-power electronics designed to operate at higher voltages, in sectors such as aerospace, transportation and telecommunications.
The breakthrough, however, has not yet happened, largely due to the difficulty of synthesizing high-quality, single-crystal diamond in the lab: “The most crucial challenge is the lack of available diamond wafers that are affordable, have large surface areas, and retain the material’s most desirable properties”, the researchers explain.
Naturally occurring diamonds are formed over billions of years under intense pressure and heat below the Earth’s surface. In the lab, researchers mimic these geological conditions through various techniques, but so far none have been able to produce diamond in large enough wafers for real industry applications.
“In the future, if scientists can optimise these methods to enable the large-scale and affordable production of diamond wafers with greater surface areas, this could lead to the creation of electronic components with truly exceptional qualities”, they add.
To find out more on this topic, listen to the full podcast here: