Click For Photo: https://cf3e497594.site.internapcdn.net/tmpl/v5/img/phys_308px.png
SNSF-funded researchers have developed a new technique for carving materials to create micromechanical systems. In particular, they have created a miniscule watch component out of synthetic single-crystal diamond.
Diamond is very hard and elastic, a very good thermal conductor and highly transparent, which makes it ideal for many mechanical and optical applications. But cutting it into complex shapes with micrometre (one thousandth of a millimetre) precision remains very challenging. A process developed by the team of Niels Quack, an SNSF Professor at EPFL, makes it possible to carve a micromechanical watch system – a three-millimetre-diameter escapement wheel and anchor – out of synthetic single-crystal diamond.
Lausanne - Team - Technique - Ion - Computer
The Lausanne team has refined a technique known as "reactive ion etching" that is widely used in the computer chip industry. The researchers are thus able carve synthetic diamond into three-dimensional shapes 0.15 millimetre thick, i.e. three times greater than the thickest existing structures. "We're getting close to watch industry standard thickness, which is about 0.2 millimetre", explains Quack. "Our technique is interesting to industry, and we are in discussions with a Swiss watch company. We believe that diamond offers reduced friction, which should increase the power reserve. That's how long it takes until the watch has to be rewound. But it's still a hypothesis that needs to be tested." Diamond has other advantages for watchmaking: it's translucid and can be coloured, and is also non-magnetic – a highly valued attribute in the current market.
Previously, reactive ion etching could only create structures 0.05 millimetre thick: when the ions (electrically charged atoms) are accelerated by an electric field, they not only remove the diamond layers at selected spots; they also eat away the mask that...
Wake Up To Breaking News!