For those looking for cheap diamonds, they might want to cozy up to researchers at North Carolina State University.
Jay Narayan and his colleagues have discovered a new form of solid carbon, called Q-carbon, which allows them to produce diamond-related structures at room temperature and at ambient atmospheric pressure in air.
Graphite and diamonds are two solid forms or phases of carbon and this would be a new form that researchers believe is harder than diamonds.
"We've now created a third solid phase of carbon," Narayan, who authored three papers including one in the Journal of Applied Physics on the work with doctoral student Anagh Bhaumik, said in a statement. "The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets."
Along with being harder that diamonds, Q-carbon has been shown to be ferromagnetic -- meaning it's easily magnetized -- and glows when exposed to low levels of energy.
"Q-carbon's strength and low work-function – its willingness to release electrons – make it very promising for developing new electronic display technologies," Narayan said, adding that Q-carbon could also be used to create a variety of single-crystal diamond objects.
"This discovery opens a new chapter in synthesis and processing of nanodiamond and microdiamond for a variety of applications ranging from abrasive powders, novel catalytic properties, smart displays, myriads of biomedical and microelectronic, and nanoelectronic applications," the researchers wrote in another study on the disocovery in the journal APL Materials.
To come up with Q-carbon, the researchers start with a substrate, such as sapphire, glass or a plastic polymer. The substrate is then coated with amorphous carbon and hit with single laser pulse lasting approximately 200 nanoseconds. The pulse causes the temperature of the carbon to reach 4,000 Kelvin (or around 6,740 degrees Fahrenheit) and then rapidly cool down.
The result of the process is a film of Q-carbon between 20 nanometers and 500 nanometers thick.
The rate of cooling can be manipulated by using different substrates and changing the duration of the laser pulse. And by changing the rate of cooling, they are able to create diamond structures within Q-carbon.
"These diamond objects have a single-crystalline structure, making them stronger than polycrystalline materials," Narayan said. "And it is all done at room temperature and at ambient atmosphere," he continued. "So, not only does this allow us to develop new applications, but the process itself is relatively inexpensive."
But the researchers acknowledged there remain plenty of questions regarding Q-carbon, adding that they were "still in the early stages of understanding how to manipulate it."
"We know a lot about diamond, so we can make diamond nanodots," Narayan said. "We don't yet know how to make Q-carbon nanodots or microneedles. That's something we're working on."
North Carolina State has filed two provisional patents on the Q-carbon and diamond creation techniques.
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