Q-Carbon: Scientists May Have Found A Cheaper, Brighter And More Brilliant Diamond Alternative

03/12/2015 2:26 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Vladimir Godnik

It seems diamonds may not be forever after all -- scientists in the U.S. have created a substance that shines brighter and more brilliantly than the gemstones we’ve befriended for centuries.

Before you pick out a ring setting, the stronger, brighter Q-carbon, as they’re calling it, will more likely be used for medical research before bling.

Science Daily has reported researchers at North Carolina State University say the newly created substance isn’t diamond or graphite, but solid carbon.

"We've now created a third solid phase of carbon," said Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State and lead author of three papers describing the work.

Its ability to glow in even the lowest light makes it promising for developing new electronic display technologies.

But it can also be used to create a variety of single-crystal diamond objects through a process where material best described as loose carbon is hit with a single laser pulse lasting approximately 200 nanoseconds.

During this pulse, the temperature of the carbon is raised to 3,727 degrees Celsius and then rapidly cooled.

The result? A film of Q-carbon.

The researchers can then control the process to make films between 20 nanometres and 500 nanometres thick and by using different substrates and changing the duration of the laser pulse, they can also control how quickly the carbon cools.

As we know, pressure creates diamonds and by changing the rate of cooling, researchers were able to create diamond structures -- or nanodiamonds within the Q-carbon that are harder than your average diamond -- and glow brighter.

On top of that -- they are ferromagnetic -- which means they can be magnetised.

"We can create diamond nanoneedles or microneedles, nanodots or large-area diamond films, with applications for drug delivery," Narayan said.

But before you get caught up in the sparkle medical possibilities, the study authors said Q-carbon is so new that they need to study its properties further in depth before jumping to any conclusions.

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