Beyond the Bling: Diamonds for Cutting-Edge Tools

Brookhaven Lab physicist John Smedley wrote this post.

People use diamonds to cut concrete, sharpen knives, and jumpstart wedding plans. As a member of Brookhaven’s Instrumentation Division, I’m on a team that found that diamond also fits the bill for new components in cutting-edge tools we are designing for upgrades for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), future linear-accelerator light sources, the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), and NSLS-II-- facilities that researchers from around the world are using to understand more about how the natural world works and how we can solve the nation’s energy challenges, too.

Why Diamond and Why Now?

Diamond is a crystalline form of carbon. Among all known natural materials, these crystals of carbon are the hardest and also the best at transferring heat. Diamond is also highly transparent to x-rays. Jewelers who tell you that no two diamonds are alike are right. If you want a diamond for a symbol of undying love, you might prefer a natural, unique diamond. When you need diamonds to produce 50 instrumentation devices, you don’t want the diamonds to be unique, you want them to be uniform. Less expensive synthetic diamonds -- which have only become usable for our needs in the past 10 years -- provide the uniformity we require and contain far fewer impurities than their natural counterparts.These extreme properties, and the availability of uniform crystals, have made diamond the material of choice for development of tools called electron amplifiers and x-ray beam monitors.

If you direct an electron beam through a diamond electron amplifier, you can increase the electron beam’s current more than 300 times. This kind of amplification would be particularly useful for linear accelerators, or linacs, including the energy recovery linac that is being developed for RHIC and eRHIC, the proposed electron ion collider. Diamond electron amplifiers would also benefit next-generation linac light sources.

In addition to its fantastic electrical and thermal properties, diamond has a low x-ray absorption rate. This combination means that diamond can be used in monitoring devices that can measure the position, flux, and timing of x-ray beams at NSLS and NSLS-II.

More to the Story Than Tools and ‘Bling’

Our work with these diamond-based tools illustrates the benefits of working at a multidisciplinary lab like Brookhaven. We’ve taken measurements to study diamond using 20 different beamlines at Brookhaven’s NSLS. Components for the beam position monitors have been fabricated at the Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials. We were doing research with diamond for the Lab’s Collider-Accelerator Department when we recognized additional potential uses for Photon Sciences.

Realizing the different uses for these new developments occurred because the Instrumentation Division collaborates so well with our partners across the Lab. This reduces overlap and prevents redundant work, increasing our efficiency for discovery.

— John Smedley
Physicist, Instrumentation Division

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