How Monocrystal Grows Synthetic Sapphire Crystals
PRESENTER: Here is another new technology that will clearly be in demand. Russian engineers have begun producing huge synthetic sapphire crystals.
CORR.: The weight of this transparent block is nearly 400 kilos. And this is not glass, as one might think. This is the world’s largest sapphire crystal. This synthetic gemstone has been grown from fused aluminum oxide powder in Stavropol.
Oleg KACHALOV, CEO of Monocrystal (a RUSNANO Portfolio Company): Crystals grow in extremely high temperatures, over 2000 degrees. Just imagine that, it is a third of the temperature at the surface of the of Sun.
CORR.: The crystals are grown in a special apparatus, and each one takes several weeks. The apparatus maintains both a high temperature, to an accuracy of one tenth of a degree, and also a strong vacuum. Natural sapphires owe their colour to impurities, but this one is absolutely free from any contamination, which makes it especially valuable for use in electronics.
Oleg KACHALOV: Synthetic sapphires can serve as a basis for a whole industry: the manufacture of light-emitting diodes. This block of sapphire can be used to manufacture several tens of thousands of LEDs.
CORR.: According to engineers, today one in two of the world’s LEDs is manufactured with the use of the components that are manufactured here. These crystals are also used to produce the glass for watches, cameras and even touchscreens for some smartphones. It’s really hard to scratch a sapphire - the only thing that is harder is a diamond. And, it needs to be said, when it comes to creating materials of this sort, our scientists have no equal. This is a laboratory in Krasnoyarsk, where the most cost-efficient technology for growing crystals has been developed.
Andrei NEGRU: The temperature inside this furnace is 1000 degrees, which sounds very high, but everything is relative.
CORR.: Many useful crystals grow from oxides that have been fused in extremely high temperatures. In the natural world, this happens with red-hot magma, and here they have come up with the idea of combining oxides with high and low melting points, enabling them to halve the temperature of the furnace. Interestingly enough, in this laboratory they grow unique crystals whose optical properties change depending on the magnetic field that is applied.
Irina GUDIM, research professor at the Laboratory of Radiospectroscopy and Spin Electronics of the Kirensky Institute of Physics, part of the Siberian division of the Russian Academy of Sciences: Let’s say that in new quantum computers you need to switch between channels of information: we can use optical switching, with the help of a magnetic field, i.e. we change the crystal’s magnetic field, and the crystal changes the direction of the optical flow.
CORR.: Some scientists believe that the future of computers lies in optical microchips. Like today, the main components of these microchips will be transistors, but instead of conventional transistors these will be optical transistors, which perform calculations using light. This means that the computers will operate at the speed of light. But some scientists say that light is not always the best solution. Conventional tried and tested electronic devices have certain advantages, and so it would be a good thing if a single device could combine both photons and electrons. Crystals like this make that possible.