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The Science of a Sparkling Shave

• Cyrus Farivar via Technology Review
For the last few months, Andre Flöter has been shaving with a diamond-tipped razor blade.

He's not some nouveau riche flaunting the newest kind of bling. He's the founder of GFD, a German company that for the last seven years has been selling blades that are coated with synthetic diamond and used for industrial purposes--such as medical scalpels and instruments that cut plastic sheeting. Now Flöter hopes to use the exceptional hardness of diamond to crack the multibillion-dollar market for consumer razor blades.

Seated in a café in Mannheim, Germany, a couple hours north of his office in Ulm (Albert Einstein's birthplace), Flöter whips out a plastic-handled razor that looks like ones you have at home. But inserted into this one is a prototype of GFD's diamond-tipped blades.

He demonstrates against his own arm hair how it cuts as smoothly as a regular razor. He hands it to me so I can try, and it feels like my regular razor. But one major difference, Flöter says, is that his diamond-tipped blade should last several years rather than a few weeks.

The body of the blade is made of tungsten carbide, a dense metal compound, and seems just like a typical commercial razor blade, except it is a little heavier and has a darker metallic color. The coating of synthetic diamond--carbon manipulated at the nanoscale--in the tip doesn't make it look shiny at all.

Flöter won't reveal details of how GFD creates a film of synthetic diamond. He's more forthcoming about how the company's blades, once made, are sharpened. The engineers take dozens of blades and stand them upright in a vacuum chamber. Then they hit the blades with ions of oxygen or chlorine gas that has been excited to a plasma state with an electric field. The process is akin to using extremely fine-grained sandpaper as a sharpener.

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