According to a report by Phys.org, a new phase of solid carbon was created by researchers from North Carolina State University. The new phase of carbon, called Q-carbon, is completely separate from the other solid forms of carbon, graphite, and diamonds. Q-carbon has allowed researchers to create substances very similar to diamonds at room temperature and pressure. Normal diamonds are created by exerting extreme temperatures and pressures on coal. While studying the new phase of carbon, researchers discovered that it was also ferromagnetic, which means it is highly susceptible to magnetization.
Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State, commented on this new scientific discovery.
“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. We didn’t even think that was possible. Q-carbon’s strength and low work-function – its willingness to release electrons – make it very promising for developing new electronic display technologies.”
— Science Beta (@sciencebeta) December 1, 2015
In order to create this new phase of carbon, researchers used substrates that they coated with a form of carbon known as amorphous carbon. The sample is then hit with a laser for 200 nanoseconds. During those 200 nanoseconds, the temperature of the sample reaches 4,000 degrees Kelvin (6,740 degrees Fahrenheit), then quickly cools down. The Q-carbon that is made from this process can be manipulated in size, making a film that is between 20 nanometers and 500 nanometers thick. For comparison, the thickness of a piece of paper is approximately 100,000 nanometers thick. Researchers have also discovered that by manipulating the substrate, laser exposure time, and the cooling rate, they can create structures that are extremely similar to diamonds. Jay Narayan talks about the different types of diamond-like objects they can now create with Q-carbon.
“We can create diamond nanoneedles or microneedles, nanodots, or large-area diamond films, with applications for drug delivery, industrial processes and for creating high-temperature switches and power electronics. These diamond objects have a single-crystalline structure, making them stronger than polycrystalline materials. And it is all done at room temperature and at ambient atmosphere – we’re basically using a laser like the ones used for laser eye surgery. So, not only does this allow us to develop new applications, but the process itself is relatively inexpensive.”
Narayan is quick to state that the new phase of carbon is still very much unknown.
“We can make Q-carbon films, and we’re learning its properties, but we are still in the early stages of understanding how to manipulate it. We know a lot about diamond, so we can make diamond nanodots. We don’t yet know how to make Q-carbon nanodots or microneedles. That’s something we’re working on.”
Before the discovery of Q-carbon, diamonds were thought to be the hardest mineral on the planet. The scale used to determine the hardness of an object is the Mohs Scale of Hardness, which is ranked from one to 10 and used to determine a material’s ability to scratch another. The softest material on the scale at number one is talc, and diamond is the hardest at 10. Will the Mohs scale now have to be reworked in order to show that this new phase of carbon is harder than diamond?
The North Carolina researchers have sent out the paperwork needed for them to receive patents on the process of creating and on the actual substance of Q-carbon. The Q-carbon research was published in the November 30 online issue of the Journal of Applied Physics.
What are your thoughts on this new phase of carbon?
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