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RESEARCH in Brief

CHEMISTRY

Diamonds Assembled from Nitrogen


Nitrogen, the main component of air, is normally composed of inert molecules in which two nitrogen atoms are linked by a triple bond. However, researchers in Mikail Eremets and Reinhard Boehlers group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz have now synthesized the first polymeric, cubic nitrogen in which the nitrogen atoms are linked to each other by single bonds similar to the carbon atoms in a diamond. This cubic form had not previously been found in any other element, and this polymeric nitrogen possesses some unique properties, such as an energy content that is five times greater than that of the most powerful non-nuclear explosives (NATURE MATERIALS, August 2004). Based on theoretical considerations, it had been assumed for twenty years that single-bond nitrogen must also exist: it was thought that molecular nitrogen should transform under high pressure to an atomic solid with a cubic lattice structure. Researchers therefore worked intensively to produce this polymeric nitrogen, specifically using high pressures and different temperature ranges. Although they found various new nitrogen structures including a non-molecular semiconductor phase they never discovered the predicted nitrogen diamonds. Scientists in the high-pressure group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz have now succeeded in producing this long sought-after polymeric nitrogen form by synthesizing it from diatomic nitrogen at temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees Kelvin and pressures of more than 110 gigapascals (corresponding to 1.1 million atmospheres). To do this, the researchers used a new, laser-heated diamond high-pressure cell. Analyses of the transparent crystal forced into existence in this way confirmed that it was indeed polymeric nitrogen with the theoretically predicted cubic lattice structure, which is characteristic of solids with strong covalent bonds. That is why we call it nitrogen diamond, says Mikail Eremets, one of the Mainz-based Max Planck researchers. In contrast to diatomic nitrogen, which is extremely inert due to its highly stable triple bond, this polymer, with its single nitrogen bonds, possesses

Polymeric cubic lattice structure: All nitrogen atoms are linked to each other through single covalent bonds.

ILLUSTRATIONS: ROHRER, BASED ON MATERIAL FROM THE MPI FOR CHEMISTRY

Schematic crosssection of a diamond anvil cell: The beam of an infrared laser heats the sample, while an argon ion laser serves to excite a ruby for spectroscopic pressure measurement.

enormously high energy density. This is explained by the fact that there is much more energy in three single bonds between nitrogen atoms than in one triple bond. It follows that a lot of energy is released when single-bond polymeric nitrogen transforms into normal, triplebond nitrogen in fact, as mentioned above, more than five times as much as is released by the most powerful known chemical explosives. As the final product of this explosive conversion is ordinary, environmentally friendly nitrogen, it is now being examined whether and how polymeric nitrogen can be used as a fuel or explosive. To achieve this, however, it is first necessary to find a way to obtain diamond nitrogen at normal temperatures and pressures.

@ Further information from: DR. MIKAIL EREMETS,


Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz Tel.: +49-6131 305-312, Fax: +49-6131 305-388 e-mail: eremets@mpch-mainz.mpg.de DR. REINHARD BOEHLER Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz Tel.: +49-6131 305-252, Fax: +49-6131 305-388 e-mail: boe@mpch-mainz.mpg.de
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