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Backer emerges for diamond coating system: Gillette signs 25,000 pounds contract to be first member of research group

Ernest Nagy, the inventor who has found a simple way to coat surfaces with diamond, has found the first major industrial backer for his research group.

His technique has baffled scientists. Diamond is a remarkable material, most useful to industry if laid down in thin layers. But a search for a cheap, reliable way to do this has eluded industry. Mr Nagy's process uses a 'mop' impregnanted with diamond dust, then spun at high speed to brush a coating onto a surface.

Yesterday, at the first public demonstration of Mr Nagy's technique, Professor Geoffrey Allen, who is co-ordinating industrial liaison for Mr Nagy, said that Gillette had signed a pounds 25,000 contract to become the first member of the Nagy Diamond Film Group, at Bristol University.

He was speaking during a meeting at the university attended by 100 industrialists. Many of the delegates were from companies that have spent millions of pounds seeking diamond coating techniques.

Dr John Terry, group manager for wet shaving for Gillette in the UK, said he believed the company, which has two-thirds of the world market for razor blades and shavers, had sent a letter of intent to the university but had yet to sign a contract.

A diamond coating on razor blades would make them tougher and more durable. Dr Terry said Gillette was looking into many coating processes. 'There is interest in the company and we shall assess it and see what we shall do,' he said.

Delegates from a broad range of industries included representatives from Pilkington Technology, Westland Helicopters, British Telecom laboratories, Xerox Corporation, British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce.

Dr David Dingley, of Bristol University, who helped set up Mr Nagy's research group, said: 'The industrial interest has been very large. Some of this is very supportive and some is sceptical. This technique is controversial in that it's incredible to believe that such a simple process works at all.'

Dr David Tunnicliffe, from the corporate research division of British Aerospace, said his company was trying to find a way to get involved with Mr Nagy's project, but he added that smaller component suppliers ought to be the ones to develop the technology. 'We might be able to encourage that, perhaps by sharing costs.'

Crofton Brierley, from GEC Marconi, said applications for diamond coatings in the defence world, such as diamond windows for aircraft and missile heads, transparent to infra-red, were immense. 'In GEC Marconi alone, sales of diamond coated infra-red products would be pounds 20m by 1996,' he said.

Mr Nagy has pledged to give away his technology to anyone who wants to exploit it after putting aside his rights following failed attempts to negotiate an exclusive deal with a multi- national conglomerate. He says he will grant anyone a licence to use the technique for a specific purpose, say coating skis with a virtually friction-free layer.