Mistry's Mistake

By Fenella Saunders|Wednesday, January 01, 1997
RELATED TAGS: MATERIALS SCIENCE
Pravin Mistry is a lucky man. A few years ago, the metallurgist and president of qqc in Dearborn, Michigan, was coating a piece of metal with titanium diboride to make it last longer when he noticed some unexpected speckles on the surface. He quickly realized that he had mistakenly used carbon dioxide gas instead of nitrogen in the process. When he ran some tests on the speckles, however, he couldn’t believe his eyes: they were pure diamond.

That was how Mistry discovered a cheaper and easier way to cover objects with a thin layer of artificial diamonds, thereby making them harder, for which he was awarded the patents last September. Conventional techniques require placing the entire object either under very high heat and pressure or in a vacuum chamber for hours at a time while carbon crystallizes on its surface. Mistry’s method is much simpler. He bathes the object in nitrogen gas, which contains the reaction and may help the diamonds adhere better to the surface. Then he pumps in some carbon dioxide gas and blasts the object with lasers. The lasers create a shock wave--a small area of intense heat and pressure--that causes carbon from the carbon dioxide to crystallize on the surface. You put the heat only where you need it, says Mistry.

Mistry isn’t quite sure how the carbon atoms manage to align themselves as diamond. These days, however, he is more concerned with finding applications for his technique, which he claims is also more versatile than conventional ones. If you look at current technology, it can do flat plates and a few simple shapes, he says, Give them a drill bit and they can’t coat it. We can coat pretty much anything.
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