Q-Carbon Outshines Diamonds as Stronger and Brighter… and Faster?

Researchers at North Carolina State University have created a new form of carbon that can be used to make diamonds at room temperature.

[DIGEST: Scientific America, Science Daily, APL Materials, Journal of Applied Physics, NYTimes]

Most people are familiar with the two common solid phases of the element carbon: graphite (as in pencils) and diamond (as in gems). Both substances are composed entirely of carbon atoms, but their structures are different, giving them very different properties. Now a third solid form of carbon may be joining their ranks.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have discovered a new phase of carbon they call Q-carbon. Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State, announced, “We’ve now created a third solid phase of carbon. The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets.”

A microscopic view of the Q-carbon diamonds. Credit: Jagdish Narayan and Anagh Bhaumik
A microscopic view of the Q-carbon diamonds. Credit: Jagdish Narayan and Anagh Bhaumik

This new substance is created at room temperature using a laser similar to those used in eye surgery. The scientists cover substances such as sapphires, glass, or plastic polymers with a carbon coating that does not have the crystalline structure of solid phases. When they heat the object with a pulse from the laser, the rapid heating and cooling create exceptionally thin films, measured in nanometers of Q-carbon. By changing the strength and timing of the laser, they can create diamond structures within the Q-carbon. The

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