The subject of my PhD research is an atomic defect in diamond, and we primarily use lasers to probe the quantum properties of this “colour centre”. To glean more clues, we change the environment of our samples by placing them in magnetic fields and electric fields and various temperatures.
One other variable that we can alter is called “strain”, and to increase the strain we squeeze a diamond sample very hard. Using compressed air and a piston mechanism to get mechanical advantage (remember P=F/A), we put a pressure on the diamond that is about 10,000 times greater than that in an ordinary car tyre.
It may not be too surprising, then, that I broke a diamond earlier this week. Actually, I wasn’t aware of it at the time; during my experiment the sample lies deeply inaccessible inside a cryostat that keeps it at a temperature close to absolute zero (-273 degrees celsius). However, the discovery that my crystal had split into two certainly explained some very anomalous results I had been recording.