Cool Cutting-Edge Class of Carbon Constructed
Researchers have a created a new phase of Carbon, distinct from the well-known graphite and diamond. This new phase, called Q-Carbon, not only has surprising characteristics but it can also be used to create useful structures made of diamond.
Carbon is pretty cool if you think about it. Take a gander at some its most interesting characteristics
- It’s the fourth most-common element by mass in the universe.
- It is the basis for organic chemistry being an important constituent of all life (as we know it)
- It can bond with itself and almost every other element in the Mendeleev periodic table to form over 10 million compounds
- It is among the hardest substances known (diamond, lonsdaleite) and the softest (graphite)
There are many ways that carbon atoms can configure themselves (besides diamonds and graphite), many producing materials with amazing and incredibly useful properties. These “allotropes” and forms of carbon have names we’ve all become familiar with in recent years like nanotubes and graphene. Other names are less well known like nano-buds, nano-ribbons, and possibly the hardest substance known, lonsdaleite.
Well, now we have another. It’s called Q-Carbon.
After 3 decades of research, Q-Carbon, has been created at a lab at the North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. Its creation is pretty straightforward; so much so that I can’t help but display my ignorance by wondering what took so long to make this happen. It starts with a substrate or foundation like sapphire or glass. On top of that is placed a form of solid carbon that I haven’t even mentioned yet called amorphous carbon. This is like graphite or diamond but does not have a well-defined crystalline structure. This is then zapped with an ordinary laser similar to what is used during eye surgery. Precise timing is key but when it is fried (or is it baked?) properly for 200 nanoseconds, the carbon is briefly vaulted to temperatures around 3,700 Celsius. After a period of rapid cooling, the easy-bake oven at the lab has now produced Q-Carbon.
This is only the beginning of the processing we can do with this new material but let’s linger a bit on some of the amazing characteristics of Q-Carbon:
- It is ferromagnetic. That means that it can sustain its own magnetic field. This was a major surprise since no other solid forms of carbon can do that
- It is actually stronger than diamond
- It can glow when exposed to low forms of energy
- Researchers call this the third solid allotrope of carbon after carbon and diamond
Once the Q-Carbon is formed, the fun isn’t even remotely over. By changing the substrate and the duration of the pulse of laser light, the cooling periods can be manipulated. This manipulation transmogrifies the Q-Carbon into useful diamond shapes like nanoneedles, microneedles, nanodots, or films, all made of diamond. And remember, this diamond is being made at normal atmospheric pressure (no high-pressured earth or Superman’s clenched fist required).
We can scarcely imagine what amazing things we’ll be able to do with Q-Carbon and these derivative diamond structures but I’m going to give it a shot.
- High-temperature electronic switches
- Drug delivery systems
- Computer displays
- How about making a one carat diamond in 20 minutes
Image Credits: North Carolina State University