Diamond in the Rough

Industrial diamonds may be less flashy than their multifaceted, organic cousins, but their durability offers great potential for scientific use Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., professor of physics and associate dean of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, has been conducting research on manmade diamonds for many years.

NSF Funds Partnership for Innovation

By Nicholas Patterson

Industrial diamonds may be less flashy than their multifaceted, organic cousins, but their durability offers great potential for scientific use Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., professor of physics and associate dean of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, has been conducting research on manmade diamonds for many years. Recently he was awarded lead investigator status on a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study potential applications for diamonds.

The highly competitive $600,000 NSF Partnership for Innovation grant will fund applications using diamonds in knee implants, lasers, and sensors, says Vohra, who’s also director of UAB’s Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration and UAB Campus Director for the NASA Alabama Space Grant Consortium. The grant also recognizes the partnership between the university’s new Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Birmingham Business Alliance.

Yogesh Vohra. Yogesh Vohra“I think the main goal of this grant is to provide funds for conducting translational research on a scientific discovery in order to take it to the next level, which is commercial viability,” Vohra says. “So the two-year funding will finance research to overcome the barriers for using the materials in real-world applications.”

The NSF grant also funds the work of a graduate and a post-doctoral student and will help build and outfit a diamond micro-fabrication lab, Vohra says. UAB undergraduate students also will be engaged in the project.

Times Three

All aspects of the three-pronged project involve diamonds, but they each have distinctive characteristics and individual business applications.

“We have three very clear application areas,” Vohra says. “These include diamond-based sensors, diamond-coated knee joints, and diamond-coated media for high powered lasers. The goal is to move these ideas from the laboratory across the hurdles separating them from commercial use.”

“For example, in the diamond-coated knee prosthesis application, we have to overcome the limitations of how to actually deposit nanostructured diamonds over a large area of the knee. That will involve answering what are the fundamental process innovations that you have to achieve so that you get a uniform coating over a large area.”

The potential is great for patients who need artificial knees or other articulating joints, which Vohra pointed out in a recent paper: “UAB researchers have demonstrated and patented a process for depositing ultra-hard nanostructured diamond coatings on metals that are very resistant to mechanical wear for applications in articulating joints like hip, knee, and dental implants. These coatings are mirror-finish, do not require any post-growth polishing and can be applied on large surfaces. The hardness and wear resistance of these coatings is two to three times better than the standard surfaces in hip and knee prosthesis.”

Real-World Viability

The NSF grant will allow the knee prosthesis, coated with nanostructured diamonds, to be tested in a UAB knee simulator to prove its durability and marketability, Vohra says. That testing would “establish its longevity in clinical settings and establish its competitive advantage over the standard knee prosthesis on the market.”

A second area the grant will facilitate involves installing multiple sensors on a single diamond crystal. Overcoming the barriers to manufacturing a multisensor diamond could have significant impact in situations where conditions are extreme. “These diamond-based sensors would wrk in applications where conventional sensors would fail because of extreme temperatures, stress, chemicals, or high radiation levels,” Vohra wrote.

“That is where we still have to answer some fundamental questions about whether we can put multiple sensors into one diamond device,” Vohra says. “Because to be commercially viable you would like a multisensor capability. That would involve putting an electrical sensor, a magnetic sensor, and a stress sensor on the device. We have done single stage in which we encapsulated a single sensor. But we really need to do multiple sensors in one device. So that’s why I think the grant is pushing research into new directions, with the goal of developing a viable commercial product.

“Already we use a single sensor in the laboratory for extreme conditions where material is under high pressure high temperature conditions. A question we really want to explore, once we develop these vertically integrated sensors, can we extend the application to oil drilling where you put this multisensor device into a hostile chemical environment? From that point of view, I think this research is really important.”

Movie Magic Made Real

The third project is in collaboration with Onxy Optics, a Dublin, California-based company, to develop a device that figured into the 1971 James Bond movie titled Diamonds are Forever—a high-powered, diamond-based laser.

"Right now, the best thermal conductor is copper, and it conducts heat. Diamond is four to five times more efficient than copper in carrying away heat." — Yogesh Vohra
Of course, in the movie, the satellite-based laser was being used for evil purposes—to destroy nuclear weapons from space. But Onxy Optics, which bills itself as “the world leader in the manufacture of finished composite crystal and glass components for solid-state lasers,” builds its devices for far less nefarious clients.

In fact, Vohra says, the reason for using diamonds as heat sinks and bonding agents in lasers is that they are the best thermal conductors and the diamond surface is chemically inert. Diamonds “can carry the heat away very efficiently. Right now, the best thermal conductor in commercial use is copper and is used extensively for that purpose. Diamond is four to five times better than copper so it can carry away heat very efficiently. So the idea was that if we provide a diamond layer on the laser crystal, there will be a potential application in high-powered lasers.”

Currently high-powered laser crystals are limited by thermal run away problems leading to failure. “It’s the same technology in your Pentium chip,” Vohra says. “The chip generates a lot of heat. If you turn off your cooling fan, your chip will fail. So diamond is being considered as a very efficient heat conductor in those devices. It can conduct the heat away from any source.

“This is a new area for us. We had not done research into diamond coating of laser crystals before. So we’re going to look at this opportunity with our commercial partners to see if we can overcome the technological barriers.”

UAB has more than one connection with Onyx, and that points to potential advantages for what Vohra calls UAB’s primary product. “Our main products are students. Onyx had hired a physics Ph.D. student trained in Vohra’s lab in the past. This research really provides excellent training and networking opportunities for graduate students, undergrads, and post-docs. Hopefully some of the personnel would be involved in opening up new companies.” Those new companies could be located in Birmingham, he notes.
  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Our fall semester is in full swing and the momentum is building in the College and across the university.
    posted a while back 965 views
  • Finishing Strong

    We finished the academic year with a major exhibition at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts and celebrated another joyful, thrilling commencement ceremony, at which more than 2,000 UAB students graduated.

    posted a while back 902 views
  • College Alumni Community

    Our former graduates have had a great year of events and celebrations, all organized by our Alumni Board led by president Wes Calhoun. 

    posted a while back 1048 views
  • Faculty Receive University Awards

    Renato Camata, Roger Gilchrist, Samiksha Raut, and Nitesh Saxena were all recognized this year for their excellence in teaching, mentorship and advising.

    posted a while back 1417 views
  • New Chairs, New Faculty Join the College

    This fall, we welcomed several new faculty members, a new chair for the Department of Sociology, and three interim chairs. We are proud to have all of them in leadership and academic positions and are excited to see what they accomplish at UAB.

    posted a while back 1577 views
  • Nine Departments Welcome New Faculty Members

    This fall, new faculty members join the Department of Communication Studies, the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Department of English, the Department of Music, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Social Work, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Theatre.

    posted a while back 1530 views
  • New Degrees, New Department Names

    At recent Board of Trustees meetings, two new degrees and two new department names were approved.

    posted a while back 1189 views
  • New Building Groundbreaking

    Dean Palazzo, along with President Ray Watts and Provost Pam Benoit, joined several invited guests to celebrate the groundbreaking for our new arts and sciences academic building on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.

    posted a while back 1409 views
  • Remarkable Generosity

    Donors establish five new endowments in the College—the most ever received in one year.

    posted a while back 1062 views
  • Personal History

    Love and learning are the two recurring themes of Sol and Rita Kimerling’s incredible story.

    posted a while back 1694 views
  • Strike Up the Band!

    Under the leadership of new director of bands Dr. Sean Murray, the marching blazers are ready to retake the field this fall.

    posted a while back 1834 views
  • Risk Takers

    From changing majors to changing sports, these former football players, cheerleaders, majorettes, and Blazerettes stepped outside their comfort zones and transformed their student experiences–and future careers.

    posted a while back 4446 views
  • Just This Once, A little Health Advice

    Am I the only one who feels bombarded by unwanted health advice? You can’t open a newspaper (remember those?), a magazine, the internet, or turn on the television without stumbling across someone dispensing tips for living a longer, healthier life.

    posted a while back 1294 views
  • Message from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Right now is such an exciting time on campus, and not just because the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. With the approval of our new Arts & Sciences building, scheduled to be open in Fall 2019, we are embarking on an exciting journey to construct a stunning space for our faculty and students.
    posted a while back 3578 views
  • A Vibrant Fall Semester
    There was an explosion of creativity and celebration last fall with AEIVA and the Institute of Human Rights kickoff event at the Alys Stephens Center.
    posted a while back 3555 views
  • Senior Wins Gilman Scholarship
    Jane Murphy, a student in foreign languages with a concentration in French, has been awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad.
    posted a while back 3980 views
  • Dean's Award Winners
    Congratulations to these deserving undergraduate and graduate students, who were nominated by their professors for this prestigious recognition.
    posted a while back 3225 views
  • Neuroscience Major a Finalist for Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    Hriday Bhambhvani, a double major in mathematics and neuroscience, was named a finalist for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    posted a while back 4667 views
  • Lamario Williams Wins Scholarship and Travel Award
    Physics major Lamario Williams received a PhysCon MSI/HBCU Travel Award to attend PhysCon 2016 in San Francisco.
    posted a while back 3377 views
  • Students, Faculty and Alumni Win Big at 2017 ADDY Awards
    Students, faculty, and alumni from the College of Arts and Sciences make a strong showing at the ADDY Awards.
    posted a while back 4039 views
  • New Degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology and Genetics and Genomics Sciences
    The College of Arts and Sciences is proud to offer new degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences.
    posted a while back 4932 views
  • Public Relations Certificate First in State
    Majors in public relations and other communication studies will now have the opportunity to boost their resumes with the addition of the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations.
    posted a while back 3873 views
  • Dr. David Schwebel Receives Multiple Honors
    Dr. David Schwebel, professor in the Department of Psychology and associate dean for research in the sciences, receives multiple honors.
    posted a while back 3689 views
  • Dr. Christopher Lawson Named Chair of National Research Nonprofit
    Dr. Christopher Lawson, professor in the Department of Physics, has been elected board chair of a national nonprofit coalition.
    posted a while back 3518 views
  • Dr. Sarah Parcak Launches TED Wish, Receives Additional Recognition
    Dr. Sarah Parcak, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, launches GlobalXplorer, a project funded by her $1 million 2016 TED Prize.
    posted a while back 3816 views
  • Dr. Shahid Muhktar Receives Large NSF Grant
    Dr. Shahid Mukhtar, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has been selected to receive a three-year $800,000 grant for his research from the National Science Foundation.
    posted a while back 3738 views
  • Two Biology Faculty Members Elected as Fellows in American Association of Advancement of Science
    Department of Biology faculty members Dr. Charles Amsler, professor, and Dr. Steven Austad, distinguished professor and department chair, have been elected fellows of the American Association of the Advancement of Science.
    posted a while back 3574 views
  • Psychology Professors Part of New Alabama Regional Autism Network
    Dr. Fred Biasini and Dr. Sarah O’Kelley, professors in the Department of Psychology, are part of a new Alabama regional autism network.
    posted a while back 4109 views
  • Dr. Melissa Harris Receives Award from PanAmerican Society
    Dr. Melissa Harris, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has received the 2016 PanAmerican Society for Pigment Cell Research (PASPCR) Medrano Award.
    posted a while back 3525 views
  • Dr. Margaret Johnson Awarded NIH Funding
    The Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a five-year MIRA R35 grant to Dr. Margaret Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.
    posted a while back 3920 views
  • NSF Grant Funds New CyberCorps Scholarship Program
    After years of collaboration between the Departments of Criminal Justice and Computer Science, The National Science Foundation has awarded a $2.1 million Scholarship for Service grant to address cybersecurity challenges.
    posted a while back 3650 views
  • One for the Books
    Congratulations to our 20 faculty members who published 21 books in 2016.
    posted a while back 3782 views
  • 2017 Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction Dr. Heith Copes, Department of Criminal Justice
    Dr. Heith Copes, professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, has been named the 2017 winner of the Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction.
    posted a while back 4055 views
  • 2016 Alumni Awards
    Our 2016 Alumni Award winners represent another outstanding class of graduates who have made—and continue to make—a tremendous impact in their respective fields and in the larger community. This year’s winners graduated with degrees in Computer and Information Sciences, Political Science, History, Physics, and Public Administration, reflecting the breadth of scholarship and study in the College.
    posted a while back 3072 views
  • Class Notes
    We want you to share your accomplishments! Update your alumni information.
    posted a while back 3121 views
  • The Power of Two
    Couples Jim Sokol and Lydia Cheney, Lee and Brenda Baumann, and Jane and Jim Ed Mulkin discuss their strong ties to UAB.
    posted a while back 6890 views
  • Write On
    Tucked into Sterne Library is one of UAB’s best kept—and most powerful—secrets: the University Writing Center.
    posted a while back 3768 views
  • Body and Mind
    College of Arts and Sciences researchers investigate what actually happens when we age—from our cells to our cognition—in the hopes of prolonging high-quality life.
    posted a while back 9597 views
Back to Top