Increased rate of material removal and a high degree of surface finish during the polishing of diamond is desirable not only in the technology of gem diamond processing, but also for the tribological, optical, electronic and thermal management applications of chemical vapor deposited (CVD) diamond films. Conventional mechanical abrasion techniques, though with comparatively larger material removal rates, have limitations to the surface finish attainable due to the inherent nature of the material removal process - predominantly micro-chipping. Chemical etching of diamond, on the other hand is understood to involve atom by atom material removal preferentially from defect sites, but with lower overall material removal rates. It has been realized that a combination of these two processes, leading to chemi-mechanical polishing, may therefore provide better overall results, in terms of material removal and surface finish.
In recent work on chemi-mechanical polishing of diamond, KNO3 - an oxidizing agent shown to be a dislocation etchant for diamond by Tolansky and Patel in the 1950s - has been employed. Dislocation etchants usually lead to the formation of block patterns on diamond surfaces under the usual etching conditions because of the normal and tangential etch rates (Vn and Vt) of comparable magnitude. KNO3 therefore would impose a limitation on the degree of surface finish attainable when used for chemi-mechanical polishing. However, if a chemical etchant and conditions for which Vn ≪ Vt could be established for diamond surfaces, better chemical polishing effects may be achieved. Experimental investigations in this direction have provided encouraging results and some aspects of the new results are presented.