Move over, science fiction — diamonds have long been considered nature’s hardest material, but it’s official: scientists have created a new substance called Q-carbon which they say is even harder than diamonds. It is also easily magnetized and glows when exposed to even low levels of energy.
Graphite and diamonds are two solid forms of pure carbon; Q-carbon is a third solid form which is distinct and completely new. As a result, researchers believe that diamonds are no longer the hardest substance on the planet.
“Researchers at North Carolina State University say they have developed a technique for creating a substance they are calling Q-carbon, which represents a third phase, or distinct form, of carbon alongside graphite and diamond,” the New York Times reports.
In a series of published papers available online in the journal APL Materials and the Journal of Applied Physics, the scientists describe the process of creating Q-carbon, where they take amorphous carbon, meaning carbon without a distinct shape, and irradiate it with a laser pulse for 200 nanoseconds, raising its temperature to 6,740 degrees Fahrenheit for an instant, then cooling to form Q-carbon in the form of microdiamonds. This method allows them to produce a carbon structure similar to a latticework that is stronger than a diamond. Remarkably, the process can be done at room temperature and ambient atmospheric pressure, in contrast to artificial diamonds which require incredible amounts of pressure and very high temperatures to make.
“In 15 minutes, we can make a carat of diamonds,” Jay Narayan, the lead scientist in the project, further told the New York Times.
This new discovery could have many useful and unique applications in medicine and industry, especially if a cost-effective method of mass production is found. Among these include synthetic body parts, industrial drills, and producing brighter screens for TVs and personal electronic devices.
“We can create diamond needles or micro needles, nanoneedles, or large-area diamond films, with applications for drug delivery, industrial processes and for creating high-temperature switches and power electronics,” Narayan was quoted as saying in the Economic Times.
According to Narayan, the only place Q-carbon could possibly be found in the natural world is in the deep core of some types of planets; Q-carbon is therefore a substance that may never have existed on earth before. Scientists still have a lot to learn about the new material. The groundbreaking substance is also ferromagnetic, which means it can be easily magnetized and maintains its magnetism on a permanent basis even when it is no longer exposed to the field. It glows like a fluorescent light when low electrical current is applied to it.
The laser used to create the new material is similar to the ones used for laser eye surgery. Combined with the ability to perform it as room temperatures and normal air pressure, this makes the process of creating it relatively inexpensive. This innovative discovery comes at a time in history when diamonds are highly sought after and as previously noted by Inquistr, diamond producers still command enormous financial power.
Though the researchers acknowledge there is still a great deal to learn about Q-carbon, the discovery of a substance harder than diamond may open up a new chapter in the field of synthesis. In the future, further experiments will be conducted by changing factors in the creation process, including various surfaces for the substrate underneath, different durations for the laser pulse and varying the rate of cooling.
North Carolina State has since filed two provisional patents on Q-carbon and its laser pulse/cooling creation technique.
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