Q-carbon Puts Diamonds in Second Place

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 4, 2015 1:47 pm

(Credit: clearviewstock/Shutterstock)

Long ago, ancient scientists attempted to master the craft of alchemy, or the mythical process of turning lead into gold. Alchemy has since been proven to be a hopeless task, but modern scientists have successfully unlocked the secrets to an even more stunning transformation: turning carbon, the basic building block of life, into diamonds.

A new, simple carbon-transforming technique that uses a laser to produce tiny diamond “seeds” is yielding even more sparkling results. Researchers, in a new study, used their method to create an entirely new phase of carbon that surpasses even diamonds in terms of hardness, and the new material could have a number of applications in medical and industrial fields.

Many New Properties

Researchers at North Carolina State University used a laser to craft the new hardest rock on the block, which they named Q-carbon. The novel substance possesses a host of useful properties, such as ferromagnetism, fluorescence and the ability to conduct electricity, making Q-carbon a potentially useful material for scientists and industrialists. In their findings, which were published this week in the Journal of Applied Physics, researchers estimate that Q-carbon is 60 percent harder than diamond, which is a result of tighter bonds between the atoms in Q-carbon’s structure.

To create the new substance, the researchers used a laser to deliver a quick, 200-nanosecond burst of energy to an amorphous (having no definite shape or form) carbon film, heating it to 6,740 degrees Fahrenheit. The laser jolt melted the carbon, which then cooled rapidly to form a crystal lattice structure. Depending on the energy levels and cooling period, the carbon would crystallize into either microscopic diamonds or Q-carbon. The cooling process is known as “quenching,” and it’s also the inspiration behind the carbon structure’s name. The process is also speedy, enabling the researchers to make a carat of diamonds in about 15 minutes.


Tiny diamonds that were made using researchers’ new laser technique. (Credit: Jagdish Narayan and Anagh Bhaumik)

The discovery of Q-carbon reveals a new solid phase of carbon, or a different way of arranging carbon atoms. Until now, graphite and diamond were the only known solid phases of carbon. Q-carbon only forms under extreme conditions, making it unlikely to exist in nature except at the cores of some planets, study author Jay Narayan suggested in an interview with the New York Times.

Easy to Create

A key feature of this process is that it takes place at room pressure and temperature. Current artificial diamond manufacturing techniques require equipment capable of generating extremely high pressures and temperatures or catalyzing gasses. Using lasers to create diamonds, on the other hand, is simple and inexpensive, has potential to revolutionize the production of synthetic diamonds, which are currently used as components in drill bits, lasers and heat sinks, among other uses.

Researchers also created different shapes with diamonds using this process by varying the substrate on which the heated carbon was cooled. A plate of sapphire, glass or polymer plastic, for example, yielded different configurations. The team created forms as varied as needles, dots and films made of diamond, shapes which could be used to deliver drugs, manufacture smartphone screens or in electrical components.

And if you’d like to try your hand at “diamond” production, you could always try using the microwave.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: materials science
  • M. Irshad Iqbal Rao


  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Kinetic diamond synthesis has tremendous potential. Though diamond is unstable vs. graphite under ambient conditions (2.9 KJ/mole ambient, Clausius-Clapeyron equation overall), the activation energy for rearrangement absent catalysis is almost the dissociation energy of the whole lattice. Thermodynamics proposes, kinetics disposes.

    Be clever with synthesis and an aberrant product persists. One should be able to grow cubic diamond like rock candy, both from solvent. Diamond CVD chemistry can be induced condensed phase. A kilogram diamond on demand suggests wonderful military traveling wave tube amplifiers. Compact particle accelerators, too.

    • Nilesh Choudhary

      Nice comment agree Uncle Prof.

    • Alexandru Porojan

      You lost me at kinetic.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        You don’t have to know, I have to know. Answering questions and even asking them are necessary but insufficient. We must actively separate what we know to be true from what is truely true. HR: “deviation from professional trajectory. Discharge for cause.”

        Physics fundamentally proves the universe cannot contain matter (baryogenesis). So it can’t be done, so what? Get better physics by looking elsewhere. Oh, wait – that would violate empirically defective theory. Don’t look.

        • Phillip Thern

          I’m usually pretty good with this kind of stuff, so colour yourself flattered when I can’t tell if you’re full of BS…

        • Observational_Point

          You know, instead of showing yourself to be “clever” here you just demonstrate you have an inferior ability to communicate.

          Take a lesson from some of the great communicators in this world who have a profound knowledge of their subject, yet more importantly communicate it well to a wide audience; people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Eagleman and Dan Gilbert.

          Your input here appears as pretentious gibberish aimed at making yourself look good …. but it fails … even if there is some merit occasionally in what you are getting at.

          Are you a troll on some sort of mission?

        • sixlbs9oz

          Someone really should create an online Uncle Al comment generator.

          • jack_sprat2

            Perhaps Uncle Al is really A.I., singularity.

    • http://gabriel-laddel.github.io Gabriel Laddel

      Do you have any updates on Uncle Al’s EZ BAKE DIAMONDS you’d like to share? I’m sort of curious how it played out…

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        The chemistry is fine. We need a machine shop to configure the reaction vessel re Devil Solvent reactivity toward all dielectrics other than diamond. DARPA should toss in some money, but that is not the way of things.

    • TitanX

      But whats kim kardashian up to?

    • Lembu Abraxas

      Eww. Uncle Al is trying to rouse his nucleus accumbens on me!

    • killinchy

      2.9 kJ KJ is kelvin joule

  • Sérgio Moura

    Degrees Fahrenheit? Really?

    • kapnlogos

      The article was written for the people who created and paid for it Sergio. I’m sure the scientific papers will use the metric system. Your phony superiority is showing. If it were really trying to be ‘scientific’ it would be in Kelvins, not Centigrade anyway.

      • Sérgio Moura

        Centigrade? Really???

        • kapnlogos

          I take it you prefer Celsius?

          • Sérgio Moura

            Only me and the entire contemporary scientific community.

      • killinchy

        kelvins not Kelvins

        • kapnlogos

          I stand corrected.

    • Thom

      Fahrenheit is clumsy, and doesn’t fit well with, say, the freezing and boiling points of water. That being said, there’s not much of a real objective superiority to the Celsius system. Sure, I use Celsius, but that’s by choice. I find it easy to work with, and the units line up very well. But most people don’t care about that, they just want whatever unit they’re used to.

  • Paul Shipley

    Space elevator on the way

    • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

      Tell us how the elevator car travels 23,500 miles upward. the fastest elevator is about 45 mph, Guangzhou, China. OK. call it 100 mph in situ, then a 9.8 day trip. The part through the van Allen radiation belts will be…sit in the center aisle.

      • Electric Bill

        Uncle Al, you deliberately talk over everyone’s heads for ego trips, and no one is likely to appreciate what you say for that reason… it is effectively nothing more than gibberish. Very advanced concepts don’t benefit from double talk and obscure jargon: if Einstein could convey such concepts as the theory of relativity with straightforward, common terminology, there is no reason you cannot do so as well.

        Contrary to what tou say, a Space Elevator could make such a trip much faster than you suggest, just as Musk’s Hyperloop could get us from L.A. to Portland in minutes rather than hours.

        If we had to rise all that distance in air as dense as it is at sea level, yes, the trip could take quite a long time.

        But although air is very dense at sea level; it loses density rapidly for each mile of elevation. As we ascend on the Space Elevator, air resistance rapidly decreases; as we rise, we can increase our velocity dramatically and continuously.

        There is also another intriguing factor that could come into play. Imagine that our Space Elevator could be designed as a Q-carbon tube its entire length/ height. Imagine the tube were strong enough to resist collapse from atmospheric pressure. It the tube were only, say, a few miles long, if we wanted to try to pump it to a strong vacuum, it would have to have its end sealed to keep air from entering from its upper end. But almost all of our air is below ten miles, and there is no air beyond 300 miles: it is a true vacuum beyond that point. So if a tube could be created that extended beyond 300 miles, even if its end were not capped, it could maintain its vacuum state without the need for vacuum pumps.

        So if our Space Elevator had some way for us to climb friction- free for that whole distance– say, by some form of magnetic reluctance or repulsion– we could theoretically continue to accelerate until we reached an altitude of about 12,000 miles or so, reaching thousands of miles an hour, and then we can allow gravity to slow us down from that point to our destination, somewhere beyond 23,000 miles. So long as our elevator was sufficiently counterweighted, we could rise only as far as we actually wanted to, and would not be forced to stop at the exact point of geostationary orbit.

        The Space Elevator’s counter- weight would not need to stretch far beyond the 23,500 mile point, but it would have to have enough mass to keep our elevator taut from the ground up, and prevent it from buckling.

        Although the tube would work best at the equator, it could actually work at other latitudes as well, but the elevator would still have to be parallel to an imaginary line that passes through the equator.

        A curious aspect of our Space Elevator is that if it is perfectly taut and straight, we could look up from sea level and see the blackness of space even during daytime, but if our elevator were only, say, 20 feet in diameter, the end of our tube would be so tiny from our vantage point as to be invisible except from a very powerful telescope.

        Also, if our Space Elevator, if constructed as a tube, it would be somewhat self-supporting for the first few miles since it would literally be a vacuum tube, and perhaps might be lighter than air at its lower points due to our use of Q-carbon.

        To state it more concisely, if we wanted to ride our Space Elevator in a reasonable amount of time to somewhere close to geostationary orbit, we merely need to continue to accelerate for the first half of our trip, and decelerate the rest of the way.. We need not have a heavy vessel to do so, carrying our fuel with us.

        We can sidestep the need for fuel by powering our elevator with laser light. A powerful laser at ground level could shine up toward our capsule, and the tube itself would assure the laser light would be “funneled” up to us.

        • tolleyfox

          What do you do for a living? You have obfuscated your facts just as Uncle Al did.

          • jack_sprat2

            Perhaps Electric Bill is a patent clerk in Switzerland; there is precedent.

        • Ivar Ivarson

          “if a tube could be created that extended beyond 300 miles, even if its end were not capped, it could maintain its vacuum state without the need for vacuum pumps.”

          Are you certain that any 300 mile column of air wouldn’t remain exactly where it is at STP whether it is confined in a cylinder or unconfined courtesy of gravity? The Space elevator is hard enough in tension, a rigid tube is too much.

          The Space elevator need only start as an 45 mph elevator, but it has to turn into a vertical Musk-Hyperloop open to elements to get the job done in a reasonable period of time. Remember all the upward pointing arrows that read, “Space – 62km.”

        • Private_Eyescream

          Hey, be kind on us Aspergers Types, we invent and think through all the cool stuff you are using to post here. If you want fresh new electronic or chemical goodies to thrill you, don’t be too mean to us.

      • Old_Red

        My question is what happens to the electrical charge on the cable? The atmospheres electric charge can reach -1,500 Volts per meter with a range of over 2,000 volts per meter, The Tether also cuts though all of the charged layers of the ionosphere. If current ever starts to flow on the tether it will be the longest Mandeno’s Clothesline ever built. Once current starts to flow the upper end of the tether will become ionized. The first big current draw will from a series lighting strike up or down the cable between the two charges or to or from Earth (ground state as a source of sink of electrons.).

        Even if the cable is made perfectly non-conductive the dust, moisture and charge it collects will eventually make more conductive than the air around it.

        Good to see Al again.

    • i am awesome

      Hardness doesn’t necessarily mean tensile strength, with something like this it’s the strength of the grain boundaries rather than that of the material itself that limits it.

    • chrisnfolsom

      I don’t see why we would need to tether something to an elevator “cable”. With better propulsion and power systems we can just fly or propel items into space. I know there are many ideas on this subject but I cannot see the physics of it working out, but it is a neat idea. I just think these amorphous “crystals” would be great for doing more with diamonds although short pulsed lasers are allowing much more too – how about using this technique in 3d manufacturing? 😉

      • Timothy Tuck

        That’s what I was thinking too.. Have graphite fed into a Laser Sintering Machined face that delivers a 200 nanosecond pulsed laser beam that hits 6740 degree F. and now your 3D printing whatever you want with Q-Carbon.

    • Guy Gordon

      It’ll be along wait. Some kid pressed the buttons for every floor.

  • boonteetan

    Extremely quick heating on extremely thin film to an extremely high temperature, then extremely fast quenching, resulting in extremely hard carbon harder than diamond. Wonderful.

  • Alan M. Gross

    Great result! But am I missing something? This summary says, “Until now, graphite and diamond were the only known solid phases of carbon.” What about Bucky Balls?

    • BarleySinger

      I noted that obvious issue too. Pure carbon in solid form exists all over the place. What do they think the carbon in “char” is (add heat to a low oxygen environment containing plant matter & you get carbon). When you do this to hemp you get a graphine equivalent). Do they thing that Hemp Graphine is some OTHER state of matter?

    • daqu

      Graphene is “locally” graphite — that is, portions of graphite united seamlessly with other portions of graphite so the final shape is not a flat sheet but something else, like a buckyball or a zeroly, singly, or doubly capped nanotube.

  • HW developer

    Until they identify why they think it’s a new phase, by
    identifying a unique crystalline structure, I will remain highly skeptical. Right now it is primarily a lot of hand waving and inconsequential images, without the necessary information. It looks simply like yet another flavor of diamond-like carbon.

    • Observational_Point

      My point precisely (and made above) based upon the molecular structure of diamond as taught?

  • Pat Gorman

    It IS possible to turn lead into gold. Just use an atom smasher to knock 3 protons out of a lead nucleus and, voila, you have a gold atom.
    If you knock 4 protons out of lead you get platinum.(I would do that because platinum is much more valuable than gold).

    • Thom

      Not as easy as it sounds. The only way they’ve synthesized gold that I know of is in a Uranium reactor (radioactive, of course) Plus, as soon as gold and platinum becomes easy to manufacture, the price will go down dramatically. The first person to industrialize gold synthesis will be rich for a year. After that, anyone who tries (including the first person) will struggle to break even.

      • Pat Gorman

        I know that Thom. I was just having fun when I made it sound like a recipe for baking a cake. “Just use an atom smasher”…what could be easier!

        • Thom

          I know. The humor was reduced by the sheer number of times I’be heard people say that exact same thing when acting completely serious 😛

  • http://www.newforestobservatory.com/ Greg Parker

    You forgot graphene as another form of Carbon.

  • Observational_Point

    Confused? …
    My schoolboy understanding was that the triangular nature (tetrahedron) of the carbon molecule in its “diamond” form made it impossible to better in terms of hardness? Is it not still just “diamond” or was the description I was given wrong?

  • sudon’t

    “A key feature of this process is that it takes place at room pressure and temperature.” 6,740 degrees Fahrenheit? I guess you mean the rest of the room.
    Whatever. I am looking forward to a new Q-Carbon phono stylus!


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