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.”
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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