Research Roundup: Diamond formation, electrolyte supplements, colon inflammation

March 1, 2020, 10:04 p.m.

Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Feb. 23 – Feb. 29.

Pure diamond formation from fossil fuels

Through applying precise heat and pressure to naturally occurring hydrogen and carbon molecules found in crude oil and natural gas, researchers created diamonds without using high amounts of energy or the addition of a catalyst, according to a study published on Feb. 21 in “Science Advances.”

The pure diamonds can potentially be used as a material in medicine, industry, quantum computing technologies and biological sensing.

“If you can make even small amounts of this pure diamond, then you can dope it in controlled ways for specific applications,” Yu Lin, a staff scientist in the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, told Stanford News. 

The researchers used a white powder, called diamondoids, as the starting point for creating the pure diamonds. Then, they load the powder sample into a diamond anvil cell, which is a pressure chamber that helps facilitate the reaction.

In fractions of a second, the white powder transforms into pure diamonds. Typical industry-based methods often require large amounts of energy or the addition of a catalyst, but adding a catalyst often decreases diamond quality. Although the amount produced is minute, this new approach creates unadulterated, pure diamonds.

“What’s exciting about this paper is it shows a way of cheating the thermodynamics of what’s typically required for diamond formation,” geological sciences professor Rodney Ewing told Stanford News.

Electrolyte supplements may have no effect on maintaining proper sodium levels in athletes 

Taking electrolyte supplements, in pill, powder or liquid form, is not an optimal way to maintain essential sodium levels, a study published on Feb. 25 in “Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine” found.

“Electrolyte supplements are promoted as preventing nausea and cramping caused by low salt levels, but this is a false paradigm,” emergency medicine professor Grant Lipman told Stanford Medicine News. “They’ve never been shown to prevent illness or even improve performance — and if diluted with too much water can be dangerous.”

The findings suggest the biggest factor in maintaining adequate sodium levels is proper hydration. Avoiding overhydration is critical to prevent low sodium levels, and avoiding dehydration prevents high sodium levels. Additionally, running in the heat is a risk factor for inadequate sodium levels.

“Overhydrating can reduce electrolyte levels, and electrolyte supplements aren’t going to protect you,” Lipman told Stanford Medicine News. “You have to be smart while exercising, especially in the heat when you are sweating more and have greater hydration requirements.”

Lack of a microbe linked to colon inflammation

Ulcerative colitis, a disease that causes colon inflammation, has been linked to the absence of a beneficial microbe that produces metabolites to maintain gut health, a study published on Feb. 25 in “Cell Host & Microbe” found.

“This study helps us to better understand the disease,” gastroenterology and hepatology associate professor Aida Habtezion told Stanford Medicine News. “We hope it also leads to our being able to treat it with a naturally produced metabolite that’s already present in high amounts in a healthy gut.”

The findings suggested that ulcerative colitis patients had less microbial diversity compared to other patients. Specifically, the bacterial family Ruminococcaceae was underrepresented in ulcerative colitis patients. The bacteria have genes involved in converting primary bile acids to secondary bile acids, which may have anti-inflammatory effects.

Currently, the researchers are investigating the anti-inflammatory effects of a naturally occurring secondary bile acid, ursodeoxycholic acid, in clinical trials. If successful, the results from the clinical trial may also be applied to treating patients with Crohn’s disease, a related condition that causes digestive tract inflammation.

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’

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