Diamonds aren’t forever – Q-carbon is the new strong man

4 Dec 2015

Scientists in the US have claimed they’ve made both a substance stronger than diamonds, and also worked out a way to make diamonds “in 15 minutes”.

That latter claim is pretty mind-blowing, with Jay Narayan telling The New York Times that he can make diamond material in the time it takes most of us to eat our breakfast in the morning.

Narayan, researcher and co-author of a the paper published in the Journal of Applied Physics (and another in APL Materials), said that the process he and his researchers create Q-carbon through leads to tiny diamond seeds and, quite astonishingly, it can be carried out at room temperature, in general air pressure.

Contestant No 3

Q-carbon is, what Narayan describes, a new “third solid phase of carbon”, with graphite and diamond being the other two.

To make Q-carbon, researchers blast a short pulse of light into a bit of glass (or some other substrate), with loose particles of carbon scattered around it.

After hitting it with the light for 200 nanoseconds, it heats rapidly, hitting 3,737 degrees Celsius before cooling down.

The end result is a film of Q-carbon, which is something not seen before, from which minuscule particles of diamond can be extracted.

Constellation consternation

“The only place [Q-carbon] may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets,” said Narayan.

Depending on what substrate is used, Narayan and his team can control the speed with which the Q-carbon cools, which allows them to create a bunch of different diamond structures within the 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,” Narayan said.

“These diamond objects have a single crystalline structure, making them stronger than polycrystalline materials.

Room with a view

“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,” Narayan added.

“So, not only does this allow us to develop new applications, but the process itself is relatively inexpensive.”

The amount of Q-carbon, or even diamond, created via this process is minuscule but, given the ease at which it is done, this has promising signs for the future. However, don’t expect Q-carbon to replace diamonds on jewellery just yet.

As yet scientists still know very little of about the substance and, through this process, they can only yield a maximum of 500-nanometers-thick slices, a human hair is 100,000 nanometers thick.

Diamonds image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic