Researchers have developed new nanoscale technology to image and measure more of the stresses and strains on materials under high pressures. According to the researchers, that matters because pressure alters the physical, chemical, and electronic properties of matter.

Understanding those changes could lead to new materials or new phases of matter for use in all kinds of technologies and applications, they said. Furthermore, the new sensing technology could advance high-pressure studies in chemistry, mechanics, geology, and planetary science.

Their paper describes how the researchers fit a series of nanoscale sensors — they call them nitrogen-vacancy color centers — into diamonds used to exert high pressures on tiny material samples. Typically, these “diamond anvil” experiments with materials squeezed between two diamonds have allowed researchers to measure pressure and changes in volume.

The new system allows the researchers to image, measure, and calculate six different stresses — a much more comprehensive and realistic measure of the effects of high pressure on materials. The new tests also allow them to measure changes in a material’s magnetism. “This has been one of the key problems in high-pressure science,” said Professor Valery Levitas. “We need to measure all six of these stresses across a diamond and sample. But it’s hard to measure all of them under high pressure.”

Levitas’ lab has done unique experiments by putting materials under high pressure and then giving them a twist, allowing researchers to drastically reduce phase transformation pressure and search for new phases of matter that may have technological applications.

The lab also does multiscale computer modeling for high-pressure diamond anvil experiments — Levitas says it’s the only lab in the world doing such simulations. He said that experience with high-pressure simulations was why he was invited to collaborate on this sensor project. Simulations made it possible to reconstruct fields of all six stresses in the entire diamond anvil, where they could not be measured.

The sensor enables “pursuit of two complementary objectives in high-pressure science: understanding the strength and failure of materials under pressure (e.g., the brittle-ductile transition) and discovering and characterizing exotic phases of matter (e.g., pressure-stabilized high-temperature superconductors),” the researchers wrote in their paper.

This nitrogen-vacancy sensing technology has also been used to measure other material properties — for example, electric and thermal characteristics. The researchers wrote it “can now straightforwardly be extended to high-pressure environments, opening up a large range of experiments for quantitatively characterizing materials at such extreme conditions.”

For more information, contact Valery Levitas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..