Diamond has long held the promise of revolutionary new devices: impervious chemical barriers, smooth and reliable microscopic machines, and tough mechanical tools. Yet it's been an outsider. Laboratories have been effectively growing diamond crystals for at least 25 years, but the jump to market viability has always been blocked by the expense of diamond production and inability to integrate with other materials. Advances in chemical vapor deposition (CVD) processes have given rise to a hierarchy of carbon films ranging
from diamond-like carbon (DLC) to vapor-deposited diamond coatings, however. All have pros and cons based on structure and cost, but they all share some of diamond's heralded attributes. The best performer, in theory, is the purest form of diamond film possible, one absent of graphitic phases. Such a material would capture the extreme hardness, high Young's modulus and chemical inertness of natural diamond.
Advanced Diamond Technologies Inc., Romeoville, Ill., is the first company to develop a distinct chemical process to create a marketable phase-pure diamond film. The material, called UNCD® (for ultrananocrystalline diamond), features grain sizes from 3 to 300 nm in size, and layers just 1 to 2 microns thick. With significant advantages over other thin films, UNCD is designed to be inexpensive enough for use in atomic force microscopy (AFM) probes,
microelectromechanical machines (MEMS), cell phone circuitry, radio frequency devices, and even biosensors.