Scientists created a new type of carbon called Q-carbon (Q stands for quenching), which is brighter and harder than regular diamonds that form naturally, and it also gives off a soft glow.
Dr. Jagdish Narayan, co-author of the study and a Distinguished Chair Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State University, said that the new material has magnetic, electrical, and optical properties; at room temperature it becomes magnetic, and it can also act either as a semiconductor, or as a metal, according to Dr. Narayan.
Most scientists believe that diamonds formed about 1 billion to 3 billion years ago, approximately 62 miles (100 kilometres) bellow the Earth’s surface.
In 2012, a study published in the journal Nature stated that carbon dioxide molecules were crushed in the subterranean at pressures of 725,000 pounds per square inch (about five million kilopascals), and were heated to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit (1,200 degrees Celsius). The oxygen molecules were pushed out, leaving behind very symmetric lattice of carbon atoms.
When scientists want to manufacture synthetic diamonds in the lab, they usually try and recreate the natural conditions in which diamonds form specifically the high pressure and heat in the subterranean. However, these diamonds tend to be less strong than naturally formed diamonds.
For the new research – published December 2 in the Journal of Applied Physics – the researchers used small pulses of lasers to heat up amorphous carbon, which is a mass of carbon atoms that does not have any crystalline structure. The light beams were able to melt the interior of solid carbon, turning it into liquid carbon. Narayan and his colleagues then used quenching – a process in which the material is cooled quickly when submerged in a liquid.
During the quenching process, the liquid carbon is cooled at a staggering 1.8 billion degrees Fahrenheit per second (or about one billion degrees Celsius per second). The carbon atoms ‘freeze’ in place, and are left squished together.
According to scientists, it takes about fifteen minutes to create a carat of Q-carbon. That means that a gemstone for a ring or necklace could be made in a relatively short time span.
Dr. Narayan said that Q-carbon may have more useful applications. For instance, the magnetic Q-carbon could be used in biological implants that can sense magnetic fields. Deep-sea drilling may also benefit from the material’s hardness. It could also be used to develop screen displays that require a lot less power, according to Dr. Narayan.
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