Alex's (very) occasional blog

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Diamonds bounce.

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It’s perhaps a little known fact, and one hard to arrive at from first principles, but is something that any young experimentalist learns within a couple of hours:  if dropped on a hard floor, diamonds bounce.  And they bounce well. Like a golf ball on a country road.

This is an occupational hazard when working with diamonds. It was not uncommon to walk into my old lab and see a professor’s backside in the air as he crawled round the room searching the for the unique sample he has been studying for the past six months. I say ‘was’, because my old group has now gone the way that all research groups ultimately do — a quick check of the dept. website shows that following the retirements of a couple of key members, it is no more.

Research groups don’t tend to be mourned, or even have their passing marked, so I’m not going to write an obituary here. Well, not really.

A diamond
Diamonds – notoriously difficult to photograph

Much of the work of the group was on understanding the properties of defects in diamond  (“blue-skies research on atomic-scale defects in the perfect covalent crystal”, as the grant application put it). This covered both the standard electrical semiconductor things, but also the optical properties :  how to change the colours of gem diamonds, and how to tell if a flawless diamond you buy from a jewellers came out of the ground looking that good.

So, kind-of esoteric, but also kind-of commercial. But legacy is more than that: the work by members of the group on the properties of the negatively-charged nitrogen-vacancy centre in diamond is being exploited in the development of single-photon sources for quantum cryptography; they are, I think, using diamond detectors in ATLAS as beam profile analysers.  I keep getting citation alerts (yes, vanity…) from the American Mineralogist.  I can’t read the papers, but choose to assume that it is seminal work they are publishing.

As for the people, amongst the usual smattering of academics, quants and investments bankers, the ‘alumni’ of the group include a science teacher and a clinical scientist(?). Also the world’s most helpful post-doc Karl Johnston appears to be heading up the solid state physics at ISOLDE at CERN.

Laboratory glamour
Lab glamour.  (I don’t seem to have a picture of the diamond lab I used – this was Shu’s one next door.)

Objectively (ish), a middle-ranking group has reached the end of its natural life – science rumbles on, and the younger researchers have found new homes (and it was perhaps enough of a slap in the face to find that, in later years, we were increasingly chasing funding from the “applied materials science” stream). Still, I do wonder what they are going to do with all those leaky, lightless rooms under the car park.

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Written by alexconnor

May 1, 2011 at 21:10

Posted in Physics

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. […] thing I missed when noting the passing of my dear old research group was the disappearance of something with a bit more history : with the retirement of the doyen of […]


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