A third phase of carbon has been discovered, and from it researchers have been able to produce diamonds at room temperature and standard pressure. Its real-world existence is thought to be rare though, found only at the core of some planets. Researchers at North Carolina State University made the discovery, and call it “Q-Carbon.”
Previously there was thought to only be two solid forms of carbon: graphite and diamond. Graphite is pretty common, although diamonds are found much less often. This is because it takes a substantial amount of pressure and heat to produce a diamond, and the type of conditions for this to happen on Earth haven’t existed for more than a billion years.
Even in the lab, synthetic diamond-makers still must recreate these conditions to get the process to work. That’s a big expense, so the fact that NC State researchers are able to do this without any atmospheric modifications is pretty incredible.
“We can create diamond nanoneedles or microneedles, nanodots, or large-area diamond films, with applications for drug delivery, industrial processes and for creating high-temperature switches and power electronics,” lead research and NC State professor Jay Narayan says.
Narayan noted that Q-Carbon is harder than a diamond, and will glow even when exposed to small amounts of energy. It may show promise for use in new display technologies as well he says, although a lot of research is still needed to understand its properties completely.
Other companies have worked on ways to produce synthetic diamonds on the cheap, such as Santa Clara, Calif.-based Diamond Foundry. However, that company still uses high heat and pressure to produce its gems, which isn’t much different from how diamonds are are produced naturally.
The researchers are still learning how to manipulate Q-Carbon, although in the meantime have filed two provisional patents on both Q-Carbon itself and the diamond production technique used to create it. Researchers did not say when they expect the technique to be ready for commercial use.