Skull crucible

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The Skull Crucible process was developed at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow to manufacture cubic zirconia. Zirconium oxide powder is heated then gradually allowed to cool. Heating is accomplished by radio frequency induction using a coil wrapped around the apparatus. The outside of the device is water cooled in order to keep the RF coil from melting and also to cool the outside of the zirconium oxide and thus maintain the shape of the zirconium powder.

Since zirconium oxide in its solid state does not conduct electricity a piece of zirconium metal is placed inside the gob of zirconium oxide. As the zirconium melts it oxidizes and blends with the now molten zirconium oxide which now will conduct electricity and be heated by RF induction.

When the zirconium oxide is melted on the inside (but not completely, since the outside needs to remain solid) the amplitude of the RF induction coil is gradually reduced and crystals form as the material cools. Normally this would form zirconium oxide crystals with a monoclinic crystal structure. In order to maintain a cubic crystal structure a stabilizer is added, magnesium, calcium or yttrium oxide as well as any material add to color the crystal.

After the mixture cools the outer shell is broken off and the interior of the gob is then used to manufacture gemstones.

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