Diamond’s super-tightly bonded pattern of carbon atoms provides a host of extreme and strange properties that photonics researchers have sought to exploit for many decades. But there was a problem: the natural and synthetic forms did not come in the quality and size required.
Our research into the new synthetic forms of diamond has revealed this is no longer the case and that this most ancient substance is a highly promising optical material of the future.
The key advance came when we recognised that high-grade synthetic diamond could make excellent lasers. Its unrivaled capacity for conducting away heat and optical transparency enables very powerful lasers to operate in notorious “holes” in the optical spectrum where there is demand for new sources. In the period of only a few years, we have shown that diamond is one of the most versatile laser materials available. More-precise clocks, advanced surgical procedures and emerging challenges in defence and security are some of the areas to benefit from these advances.
Despite the intense scientific and popular interest in it over the centuries, diamond has also evidently carried with it surprising secrets. We have observed that intense light can dislodge carbon atoms from the surface one at a time, a phenomenon not seen in any other material. This opens up new possibilities for nanofabrication that can be used in many areas of technology as well as photonics.
Diamond’s extraordinary properties are already providing us with massive leaps in optical device performance. In partnership with commercial and government organisations, we are working to exploit these advantages to solve real world challenges. With the work only in its early stages it is likely that we have only just scratched the surface.