Researchers from the North Carolina State University have created a new substance that is harder than diamond. And brighter. And possibly more useful.
This new substance, dubbed Q-carbon, was created by blasting material covered in amorphous carbon (i.e. carbon without a crystalline structure) with a single laser pulse lasting 200 nanoseconds. This would heat the carbon to about 6,740 degrees Fahrenheit, melting the carbon. The carbon is then rapidly cooled to form a crystal lattice structure. The cooling process is known as “quenching,” which is also a reason behind naming the substance Q-carbon. How scientists allow this molten state to end and cool down determines whether this will produce diamond, graphite or Q-carbon.
Q-carbon is the third discovered solid phase of Carbon besides graphite and diamond. It has the same 4 Carbon bonds as diamond, but also has multiple 3 Carbon bonds like graphite, which is what makes the difference. Q-carbon is not only harder than diamond, when exposed to a small amount of energy, it also glows brighter than diamond. However, the most intriguing property of this newly discovered material is its ferromagnetic properties at room temperature.
Micrograph of a high resolution Q-carbon film, filled with diamonds. Photo: Jagdish Narayan
Due to the magnetic properties of Q-carbon, the material could be potentially used for biological implants that can sense magnetic fields. Another usage for the Q-carbon, thanks to the magnetic properties is for screen displays using less power. The hardness of the Q-carbon also makes the material perfect for deep-sea drilling.
This is not the first time that the materials industry has claimed to have beaten diamond in one way or another. However, what gives this invention credibility is the simplicity of the production process. So regardless of whether this substance ultimately turns out to be of industrial significance or not, the relatively simple production procedure leaves room for researchers to find out.
Cover image: Shining diamonds