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Normally an insulator, diamond becomes a metallic conductor when subjected to large strain in a new theoretical model

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Normally an insulator, diamond becomes a metallic conductor when subjected to large strain in a new theoretical model
Scanning electron microscope image of a diamond nanoneedle subject to reversible elastic bending deformation. Credit: Amit Banerjee (Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan), Yang Lu (City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong), Ming Dao (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA), and Subra Suresh (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Republic of Singapore)

Long known as the hardest of all natural materials, diamonds are also exceptional thermal conductors and electrical insulators. Now, researchers have discovered a way to tweak tiny needles of diamond in a controlled way to transform their electronic properties, dialing them from insulating, through semiconducting, all the way to highly conductive, or metallic. This can be induced dynamically and reversed at will, with no degradation of the diamond material.


The research, though still at an early proof-of-concept stage, may open up a wide array of potential applications, including new kinds of broadband solar cells, highly efficient LEDs and power electronics, and new optical devices or quantum sensors, the researchers say.

Their findings, which are based on simulations, calculations, and previous experimental results, are reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is by MIT Professor Ju Li and graduate student Zhe Shi; Principal Research Scientist Ming Dao; Professor Subra Suresh, who is president of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore as well as former dean of engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor Emeritus at MIT; and Evgenii Tsymbalov and Alexander Shapeev at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow.

The team used a combination of quantum mechanical calculations, analyses of mechanical deformation, and machine learning to demonstrate that the phenomenon, long theorized as a possibility, really can occur in nanosized diamond.

The concept of straining a semiconductor material such as silicon to improve its performance found applications in the microelectronics industry more than two