The complicated process with which diamonds are formed from carbon deposits buried deep within the earth makes these gemstones one of the most prized objects in the world.

A team of scientists from North Carolina State University, however, have developed a revolutionary process to create diamond-like structures even in a laboratory setting.

Ina study featured in the Journal of Applied Physics, Prof. Jay Narayan and his colleagues at NC State produced a new state of solid carbon known as Q-carbon that is unique from diamond and graphite. They were able to achieve this in a laboratory at room temperature and the air pressure is ambient atmospheric.

"We've now created a third solid phase of carbon," Narayan said.

"The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets."

Third State of Solid Carbon

The NC State study describes Q-carbon as having several distinct characteristics such as ferromagnetism, which is not present in other solid carbon forms.

The new carbon state has also been found to be harder compared to diamond, and the material has the ability to glow when exposed to low energy levels as well.

Narayan said that Q-carbon could prove to be a promising material for creating new electronic displays because of its strength and ability to release electrons.

This solid carbon state can also be utilized for the production of single-crystal diamond materials.

How to Produce Q-carbon

To process carbon into its third state, Narayan and his team started out by collecting a substrate, such as glass, sapphire or polymer plastic. They then coated it using amorphous carbon, a material that does not contain a typical crystalline structure unlike diamond or graphite.

The researchers proceeded to expose the coated substrate to single pulse from a laser that lasted for about 200 nanoseconds. It is during this phase in the project that the carbon material's temperature was to 4,000 Kelvin (7,200 degrees Fahrenheit) and then cooled immediately. It was carried out at a one atmosphere environment similar to the pressure of the surrounding air.

The process allows the team to produce Q-carbon films that are somewhere between 20 nanometers and 500 nanometers in thickness.

Narayan and his colleagues can also manipulate the how fast the carbon is able to cool down depending on the type of substrate they use and altering how long it is exposed to the laser pulse. Changing the cooldown rate of the material allows the team to produce various diamond structures using Q-carbon.

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