Resolving a Six-Decade-Long Controversy: Flaws Traverse Diamond Quicker Than Sonic Velocity

by Mateo Gonzalez
Dislocation Propagation in Diamond Faster Than Speed of Sound

An illustration depicts a powerful laser strike coming from the top right corner and interacting with a diamond crystal. This interaction initiates elastic and plastic waves (depicted as curved lines) throughout the substance. The laser impact gives rise to linear anomalies, termed dislocations, at the points of contact. These dislocations advance through the diamond at velocities surpassing the transverse sonic speed, leaving in their wake stacking faults—the lines that radiate outward from the point of impact. Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

The Dual Nature of Material Defects

The velocity at which defects move through materials can either reinforce the material or lead to catastrophic failure. Understanding this speed has implications for areas such as seismic activity, structural integrity, and high-precision manufacturing.

A Milestone in Materials Science

After 50 years of contentious discussions, investigators have revealed that minute linear imperfections, or dislocations, can traverse through a material at a speed that exceeds that of sound waves.

Dislocations contribute to the robustness and malleability of metals but can also be the reason behind catastrophic material failure—as demonstrated when a soda can’s pull tab is activated.

Their rapid movement grants scientists a fresh perspective on the diverse kinds of damage these defects could inflict on various materials under extreme conditions—from rocks being torn asunder during seismic events to aircraft protective materials distorted by extreme stress, according to Leora Dresselhaus-Marais, a faculty member at both the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, who spearheaded the study alongside Professor Norimasa Ozaki from Osaka University.

Methodology and Findings

Until recently, direct measurements of how rapidly dislocations spread had not been possible. Dresselhaus-Marais and her team employed X-ray radiography techniques, akin to those used in medical imaging, to measure dislocation speed in diamonds, yielding insights that could be generalized to other materials. The study was published on October 5 in the scientific journal, Science.

Debating Sonic Speed

For nearly six decades, the scientific community had been divided on whether dislocations could move through materials faster than sound. Some studies had negated this possibility, but computational models suggested otherwise, under certain conditions.

The difficulties lie in the two types of sound waves in solids—longitudinal and transverse waves—and the fact that sound moves much faster in solid substances compared to air or water. Knowledge about dislocations surpassing these sonic barriers has significant scientific and practical implications, particularly in understanding unexpected failures.

Kento Katagiri, a postdoctoral scholar in the research group and the paper’s first author, emphasized the need for further investigation into this kind of rapid material failure.

Groundbreaking Observations

To capture the first direct images of dislocation speeds, researchers employed an X-ray free-electron laser at the SACLA facility in Japan on synthetic diamond crystals. Diamonds provide an ideal setting for these high-speed X-ray imaging experiments due to their simpler deformation mechanisms compared to metals.

When dislocations intersect, they either attract or repel each other, creating new dislocations. In a can of soda, the lid contains numerous existing dislocations which multiply exponentially when opened, leading to complete failure as the can’s top flexes and the pop top detaches.

According to Dresselhaus-Marais, diamond might be considerably harder than metal, but when subjected to sufficient shock, it forms billions of dislocations.

Future Directions

Katagiri revealed that future studies will aim to determine if dislocations can exceed the higher, longitudinal sonic speed in diamond, necessitating even more powerful laser shocks. Achieving this will qualify them as truly supersonic.


Reference: “Transonic dislocation propagation in diamond” by Kento Katagiri et al., 5 October 2023, Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.adh5563

Leora Dresselhaus-Marais is associated with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Sciences (SIMES) at SLAC as well as the Stanford PULSE Institute. Collaborating institutions include Osaka University, Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute, RIKEN SPring-8 Center, and Nagoya University in Japan; DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Culham Science Center in the UK; and École Polytechnique in France. The project received substantial funding from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Dislocation Propagation in Diamond Faster Than Speed of Sound

What is the main finding of the research described in the article?

The principal discovery of the study is that tiny linear defects, known as dislocations, can propagate through diamond material faster than the speed of transverse sound waves. This conclusion settles a debate that has lasted nearly 60 years within the scientific community.

Who led the study and where was it conducted?

The study was co-led by Professor Leora Dresselhaus-Marais from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, along with Professor Norimasa Ozaki at Osaka University. Experiments were performed at the SACLA X-ray free-electron laser in Japan.

How does the research contribute to understanding material failures, including earthquake ruptures?

Understanding how fast defects can travel through materials aids researchers in comprehending phenomena such as earthquake ruptures and structural failures. This study provides invaluable insights into the unusual types of damage that can occur in materials under extreme conditions.

What techniques were used to measure the speed of dislocations in diamond?

X-ray radiography techniques, similar to medical X-rays, were utilized to measure the speed at which dislocations propagate through diamond. The study deployed an intense laser beam to drive shock waves through diamond crystals and then used X-ray imaging to capture the formation and spreading of dislocations.

Why was diamond chosen for the study?

Diamond offers a unique platform for studying how crystalline materials fail because its deformation mechanism is simpler than those observed in metals. This makes it easier to interpret the results of challenging ultrafast X-ray imaging experiments.

What are the implications of the study for manufacturing and other practical applications?

The research has substantial implications for precision manufacturing and material science, as it improves the understanding of how and why materials might fail under various conditions. This could lead to innovations in material design and engineering aimed at preventing catastrophic failure.

What types of sound waves are mentioned, and why is their speed relevant?

Two types of sound waves in solids are discussed: longitudinal and transverse waves. The speed of these waves is crucial as the study focuses on whether dislocations can propagate faster than these sound waves, which has now been proven to be the case for transverse waves in diamond.

What are the future plans for this research?

The research team plans to return to an X-ray free-electron facility to see if dislocations can also travel faster than the higher, longitudinal speed of sound in diamond. This will require even more potent laser shocks to achieve.

What organizations funded the research?

The major funding for the research came from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Where was the research published?

The research findings were published on October 5 in the journal Science, with the paper titled “Transonic dislocation propagation in diamond”. The DOI for the paper is 10.1126/science.adh5563.

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Emily F. October 8, 2023 - 3:26 am

It’s like they’re rewriting textbooks with this finding. Fasten ur seat belts, material science is getting wild.

Tim R. October 8, 2023 - 7:57 am

The use of X-ray lasers for the experiment is brilliant! Shows how far we’ve come in tech to study materials at the nano-level.

Robert M. October 8, 2023 - 9:22 am

Settling a 60-year debate, now thats what i call science. Finally some answers.

Anthony G. October 8, 2023 - 11:34 am

Who woulda thought diamonds could be this fascinating? Not just a pretty rock after all.

Vicky P. October 8, 2023 - 6:58 pm

Excellent work by Leora Dresselhaus-Marais and team. This might just revolutionize how we look at material failures.

Sarah D. October 8, 2023 - 7:45 pm

this is super cool but kinda scary too. What does this mean for engineering and safety? gotta keep tabs on this research.

Leon T. October 8, 2023 - 8:04 pm

So if defects can move faster than sound in diamonds, what’s next? This could turn alot of theories upside down.

Lisa K. October 8, 2023 - 11:16 pm

Big news for researchers and potentially big news for everyday ppl too. can’t wait to see the implications of this.

Mike J. October 8, 2023 - 11:52 pm

Wow, that’s a game changer in material science. Never thought defects could go supersonic. Mind blown!

Jen S. October 9, 2023 - 12:22 am

Is it just me, or does this have big implications for earthquake prediction and maybe even space exploration? So many questions.


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