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Scientists are always on the quest to push learning further. A recent paper was published wherein researchers have found a way to use diamonds as tiny anvils to break molecules apart. Creating and using a very small anvil—a tool that’s called a diamond anvil cell —while pounding away at molecules might seem unique, or cute, even, but it’s a bold idea that has plenty of real-life applications and implications.

Breaking Bonds with Physical Pressure

a photo of molecules connected to each other with two pieces of diamonds, one on the right and one on the left, amid the existence of the diamond anvil cell
Diamond anvil cell — the environmentally friendly way to break atomic bonds between molecules!

The research was conducted by a team of scientists from the Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, formerly known as the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.  According to their published study in Nature, the event is the very first chemical reaction that was triggered by using just mechanical pressure.

Through this feat, they are hoping to create a method of doing molecular chemistry that is more precise, is efficient, consumes a lot less energy, and is greener for the environment.

The SLAC researchers used diamonds—namely, diamond anvil cell —to generate large amounts of physical pressure to break the atomic bonds between molecules. They used this tool in conjunction with another durable compound known as carborane. (This compound is a very small sphere-shaped compound comprised of carbons and other elements. And it has the ability to resist the extreme pressure that is generated by the diamond anvil cell.) They then attach these carboranes to the softer molecule they wish to—in this case, a molecule made of copper and sulfur. The carboranes then act as a sort of molecular pressure points where the force is applied to force the atomic bonds to break.

 A Different Take on Chemical Reactions

Using physical force—such as the one from utilizing a diamond anvil cell —isn’t the easiest way to produce chemical reactions. However, a chemical reaction derived from pure pressure instead of just using heat generates less energy and is cleaner for the environment. It is also a more precise way of producing reactions as it is possible to manipulate specific atoms in the molecule and force only a specific bond to break. Such a fact allows scientists to look for new chemical processes and apply them to various technologies.

According to one of the study’s lead authors Hao Yan—physical science research associate at Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES)—the pressure from the molecular anvils has the potential to break chemical bonds and produce entirely different results compared to other means, such as pulling the bonds apart or by using light, heat or electricity to force the chemical bonds to break.

Diamond Anvil Cell — Just the Beginning

Currently, the tech is still in its infancy, and there is still a lot of work to do. But as long as the process exists, scientists will be able to find useful ways to apply the tech. In fact, researchers can use it to make new kinds of semiconductors or even convert carbon dioxide to something useful and less harmful.

This new greener and more energy-efficient method of breaking chemical bonds is a welcome addition to the field of research, as there is now an increasing demand for managing the environmental impact of scientific research. Research published in 2011 notes that the environmental impact of research should be taken into account in its design and execution. Not only does this statement make sense financially, but it also increases the sustainability of the content and the process.

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