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apphireeriePart3:

ModernntheticapphireApplication
JenniferStoneSundberg

August21,2013
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Previouslyweintroducedsapphireasagemstoneandasamajorindustrialmaterial(http://www.gia.edu/gianewsresearchSapphireSeriesNext
GenerationGrowthTechniques)thatspurredtheadvancementofmanysyntheticcrystalgrowthtechniques.Syntheticsapphireiscommonplacein
oureverydaylives,asitsdesirablepropertiesoptical,mechanical,thermal,chemical,andstructuralhaveyieldedanarrayoffascinating
applications.

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Figure1.Forthepast25years,titaniumdopedsyntheticsapphirecrystalsforhigh
powerlasershavebeengrownusingtheheatexchangermethod.CourtesyofGT
AdvancedTechnologies.

Aturningpointforsyntheticsapphirewastheinventionofthelaserin1960.TheodoreMaiman,usingaVerneuilgrownrubycrystalfashionedintoa
rod,demonstratedthefirstopticallaser.Thequalityofrubyfromflamefusiongrowthwasinadequateforcommerciallasers,promptingthesynthesis
ofsapphireusingtheCzochralskitechnique.Tothisday,lasercrystalsofavarietyofcompositionsarestillgrownthisway.Rubycrystals,traditionally
grownformilitaryrangefindersandcosmeticsapplicationssuchastattooandhairremoval,havelargelybeenreplacedbyotherlasermaterials.Ruby
lasersarenowmostlyusedforproducingholographicimagesanddrillingsmallholesindiamond.
Anothersignificantlasercrystalistitaniumsapphire,oftenproducedbytheCzochralskitechniqueortheheatexchangermethod(figure1).Titanium
sapphirelasers,withtheirabilitytoproduceextremelyhighenergyandultrashortpulses(pico,femto,orevenattosecondinduration),havebeen
instrumentalinadvancingfundamentalresearchandmayholdthekeytorealizingnuclearfusionenergyinthefuture.

Figure2.Sapphirewindowsarewidelyusedintheaerospaceindustry.CourtesyofGT
AdvancedTechnologies.

Oncetheabilitytogrowlargechromiumdopedrubycrystalswasestablished,scientistsbegandevelopingundopedsyntheticsapphire(generally
calledwhitesapphireorleucosapphire)asadurableandhighlytransparentmaterial.The1960ssawtheadventoflowdefectcrystalswithhigh
chemicalpurityusedinprotectivelasercoveringsforthemilitary,aerospacewindows(figure2),bulletproofarmor,andvariousscratchresistant
surfaces.Sapphire,withitsdesirableinsulationandstructuralproperties,wasasuitablesubstratematerialforsinglecrystalsemiconductorssuchas
silicon(1963)andgalliumnitride(1969).Thisopenedupevenmoremarketopportunities,includingfasterandmoreenergyefficientcircuitry,asinthe
HewlettPackard41seriescalculatorsdevelopedinthe1970s.Thetechnologyalsopermittedshorterwavelengthlightemittingdiodes(LEDs)inblue,
ultraviolet,andwhite.Sapphiresubstrateshavegrownconsiderablylarger,to10inchesindiameter(figure3).Consumerapplicationsofsynthetic
whitesapphireeventuallyfollowed.

Figure3.Monocrystals10inchsapphiresubstrateisshownnexttoa2inchsapphire
substrate.CourtesyofMonocrystal

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Weveallheardthefamiliarbeepatthecheckoutcounterwhenmerchandiseisslidacrossthescannerwindownexttothecashregister.Thetop
layerofthatwindowismadeofaverythinpieceofsapphire,whichkeepstheglassfreeofscratches,allowingcountlessitemstobedraggedacross
itwithouttheneedforreplacement.Firstdevelopedin1978(figure4),thisapplicationisnowseeninretailoutletsworldwide.Sapphirewindowscan
alsobeusedtoprotectbiometricfingerprintsensors.Thereisspeculationthatsmartphonecompaniesmaybeinterestedinthistechnology,andthats
justthebeginningofthatindustryssyntheticsapphirepossibilities.

Figure4.Thisphotoshowstheveryfirstsapphirepointofsalewindowprototype.CourtesyofFrankBruni.Toreadmoreaboutthisprototype,visit
http://frankbruni.com/uncategorized/thebirthofthesapphireposterminalwindow(http://frankbruni.com/uncategorized/thebirthofthesapphireposterminalwindow/).

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Sapphirehasbeenusedasacoveringforcellphonecameralenses,anditisalsobeingtestedbysmartphoneandelectronictabletmanufacturersfor
shatterproofdisplayscreens(figure5).Someveryhighendsmartphonesalreadyhavesapphiretouchscreens.Ifeverysmartphonebuiltnextyear
hadasapphirescreen,approximatelyonebillionfinishedsapphirescreenswouldneedtobeproduced.Consumerdemandforascratchandcrack
freescreenishigh,andvariousmarketplayersandindustryanalystshavefoundaconsumerwillingnesstopayanadditional$30to$50forthis
feature.Evenso,currentsyntheticsapphirecapacitymaynotbeabletomeetthedemand.

Figure5.Blocksofsyntheticsapphirewereusedtoproducethesesmartphonedisplayscreens.CourtesyofGTAdvancedTechnologies.

Sapphiresubstratesarebeingusedtoproducethenextgenerationofambientlighting,whiteLEDs.ThewhiteLEDisactuallyablueLED(figure6)
coatedwithayellowemittingphosphor,acombinationthatproduceswhitelight.ThefutureisbrightforLEDlightingastheworldstrivestobemore
energyefficientandlessreliantontoxicelementssuchasmercury.Thedemandforsubstratesapphireisverylargeinthemillionsperyearand
growingandthereiscompetitionforresourcesamongmanufacturersofsyntheticsapphireforvariousapplications.

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Figure6.Blue,ultraviolet,andwhiteLEDsarecommonlygrownonsyntheticsapphire
substrates.WhiteLEDsarecreatedbyapplyingaphosphorescentcoatingsuchas
ceriumyttriumaluminumgarnettoblueLEDs.CourtesyofGTAdvancedTechnologies.

Sowheredoesgemologyfitintothis?Sapphireoccupiesasizeablepercentageofthesyntheticgemstonemarket.Butevenasdemandforsynthetic
gemcorundumincreases,theportionofindustriallygrownsapphirecrystalsusedasgemmaterialsisshrinking.Withtechnicalapplicationsfor
sapphireontherise,thesyntheticgemindustrywillcontinuetofeeltheeffectsinproductquality,supply,andpricingtopicsthatwillbefurther
exploredinthefourthandfinalinstallmentofthisseries.

AOUTTHAUTHOR

JenniferStoneSundbergismanagingdirectoratCrystalSolutions,LLC,andatechnicaleditorofGems&Gemology.Shespecializesincrystal
growthandcharacterizationtechnology.