A group of scientists at North Carolina State University has developed a carbon material called ‘Q-carbon’ that is harder and brighter than even diamonds. The third solid phase of carbon after graphite and diamonds, Q-carbon was created in a lab by firing a laser beam for 200 nanoseconds pulse on a substrate of glass, sapphire or plastic polymer coated with layer of amorphous carbon. Unlike diamond structure, amorphous carbon is scattering of carbon atoms not bonded together originally.
The laser beam blast raises the temperature of carbon to around 3,700 degrees Celsius rapidly. The heated carbon atoms however cool down immediately and position themselves in a special crystalline structure. The newly created Q-carbon substance is harder and brighter than diamonds and is ferromagnetic.
According to Jay Narayan – researcher at the university and lead author of the papers on this innovation,
“The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets.”
Properties of Q-carbon make it very useful for various applications including medical and electronics. Unlike wonder materials or Lab-grown diamonds that require High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) or Carbon Vapor Deposition (CVD) technology, Q-carbon can be attained at room temperature and pressure. By altering the production technique and laser blast pulse, nanodiamond structures like nanoneedles, microneedles, nanodots or large-area diamond films can be created with immensely useful applications for drug delivery, cutting-edge cancer drug research, electronic display tech etc. Q-carbon’s ability to release electrons and other properties holds potential for hi-tech and industrial usage also.
However, Q-carbon sheets have been produced that measure 20 – 500 nanometers thick and 100 times thin than typical human hair. Besides, scientists are still learning the properties of Q-carbon and are in the early research stage. It’s probably too early to predict the final usage and applications of Q-carbon.
Considering the difference in structures from diamonds, Q-carbon may not be used as an alternative in gems and jewelry, at least in its current form. Nevertheless, the new wonder material holds potential for further advancement of Lab-grown diamonds.