Is this new form of carbon even better than a diamond?

neildegrasse

The Problem

  • Making diamonds for industrial purposes (think cutting, drilling, and polishing tools) takes extreme heat, pressure and chemical interactions. It’s not an efficient process it’s very expensive and doesn’t make many diamonds at a time.
2 mm drill bits coated with diamonds (Source: Wikipedia)
2 mm drill bits coated with diamonds (Source: Wikipedia)

 

  • There are only two solid forms of carbon: diamonds and graphite (like what’s in the tip of a pencil).
  • Scientists are always trying to come up with a new, more efficient and cheaper way of making diamonds.

The Study

  • Researchers at North Carolina State University* took carbon with no crystal structure (called amorphous carbon), heated it to a little over 3,700 degrees Celsius for 20 nanoseconds**, and melted it to sheets of sapphire, glass and plastic using a laser (yes, a frickin’ laser).

 

Pew pew pew! Science! Pew pew!
Pew pew pew! Science! Pew pew!

 

  • This was all done at room temperature and pressure (a big huge deal, since making things NOT at room temperature and pressure is hard, y’all).
  • The carbon was quenched (cooled off quickly).
  • They then used a high powered transmission electron microscope (read: shot electrons through the material) to “see” its new and exciting properties.

The Results

  • A new form of solid carbon, called Q-carbon (Q for quenched), was formed.
  • Q-carbon contains nanodiamond crystallites (read: extremely tiny diamond crystals).
  • Q-carbon was used to grow nano- and micro-diamonds.
  • Q-carbon also has magnetic properties never seen before in carbon and it gives off electrons more easily than other forms of carbon.
Sorry, Neil. Diamonds don’t shine. They refract light.

The Takeaway

  • If this can be repeated by other researchers, it could mean that there is now an easier, cheaper way of mass producing industrial diamonds (sorry, no diamond jewelry yet).
  • This process could also be used to make nano- and micro-diamonds for biomedical applications (like cancer drug delivery) and to produce materials for electronic displays.
  • Products using materials made from this process would use less energy to make (hooray sustainability!) and would be cheaper (hooray cheaper!).
  • Materials science is rad. Cooler stuff using less stuff? Yes please.

Super Smart Science Pre-fix of the Day: “A-” meaning “without”. As in amorphous, meaning “without shape”.

Amorphous carbon? Nope. Just a blobfish.
Amorphous carbon? Nope. Just a blobfish.

Have a transmission electron microscope and some lasers sitting around? Want to make your own diamonds?  Here are the instructions, but you better do it before the patents get approved! And always wear eye protection, kids.

Novel phase of carbon, ferromagnetism, and conversion into diamond
Narayan, Jagdish and Bhaumik, Anagh, Journal of Applied Physics, 118, 215303 (2015), DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4936595
*Full disclosure: My husband studies Materials Science and Engineering at NCSU. He did not work with these researchers, but he did help me with the interpretation of the original journal article. Thanks, super smart science husband!

**Pretty sure CNN got this wrong! It definitely says 20 nanoseconds in the original journal article. Need some science editing help, CNN? I got you. Just sayin’.

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Author: Emily

I started Rise and Sci because I love science, I love teaching people new things and I want to help build a greater public understanding of all things science. My goal is to take hard to understand concepts and make them accessible to everyone- all in a fun an interesting format!

5 thoughts on “Is this new form of carbon even better than a diamond?”

    1. Great question! So in this case, the researchers were in a lab at room temperature and normal atmospheric pressure. They basically “shot” a laser, a similar type of laser to one used in Lasik eye surgery, at the amorphous carbon which heated the carbon itself (not the entire room or even the space surrounding the carbon) to 3700 C. The laser will really only heat the material it comes in contact with. The way most industrial diamonds are currently made involves a pretty large (minimum 1 meter across weighing many tons) apparatus that presses the carbon under intense pressure and heats the apparatus and space around the carbon to over 1000 C to form a diamond. This new process uses way less energy than what’s currently being done. Was that helpful?

      Like

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