Careless claims by scientists are often expanded further by journalists and grossly distort the scientific “truths” passed on to the public and policy maker. Recently, such overclaims have invaded the field of materials synthesis.
The real first principles of materials synthesis, based on the work of V.M. Goldschmidt (and Linus Pauling), have proved to be, and continue to be, very successful. By combining such principles with Edison's methodology of careful observation, precise experimentation and rapid feedback, thousands of new (inorganic) phases have been, and continue to be made (since 1948, several hundred from our own laboratory), producing dozens of useful, widely commercialized materials.
In contrast, in spite of seventy years of trying, the so-called “first principles” calculations (from the quantum mechanics of cores and electrons) have utterly failed to actually predict and synthesize a single new material or add anything to the deep and reliable insights of well known chemical theories. It is clear that what students and researchers in contemporary materials synthesis need most is a thorough grounding in crystal chemistry and phase equilibria (including metastable equilibria).
The history of the “C3N4” failure, as a harder than diamond candidate, is prototypical of the”calculating” approach to synthesis. It is contrasted with short summaries on four recent real advances into completely new processes for diamond synthesis.