Diamonds naturally form about one hundred miles below the Earth’s surface, under extreme pressures and rock-melting temperatures. They are therefore very difficult to make outside of nature. While simulating these conditions in the lab is now common, the required equipment is very expensive and the process can take several days.
Now, after decades-long testing, a North Carolina State University research team has discovered a quick way to make diamonds without squeezing carbon under heavy pressure or heating it with traditional baking.
Jagdish Narayan, a lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Applied Physics, stated that, “Converting carbon to diamond has been a cherished goal for scientists all over the world for the longest time.”
Amazingly, in crafting their diamonds, Narayan and his scientific team also discovered a new phase of carbon, called Q-carbon. This surprising material is even tougher and stronger than diamond, emits a glow and is magnetic.
Geophysicist Rebecca Fischer explains that converting carbon to diamond requires an immense amount of energy, which is why it was previously thought that they only form under extreme temperatures and high pressures.
But according to Narayan and his team, the new process has to do with the speed. He pointed out that, “Through the fast process we can essentially fool Mother Nature.”
Under regular pressure, the team exposed amorphous carbon, a type of carbon that lacks any crystal structure, to short pulses of laser. This process heated the carbon to approximately 6,740 degrees Fahrenheit. (As a comparison, the sun’s surface is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.) The liquid carbon was then rapidly cooled down to form the new tough Q-carbon.
Other versions of carbon display all kinds of different properties—like sparkly, hard diamonds as well as graphite and soft diamonds. Q-carbon is no exception to this rule.
Even more exciting to researchers is that Q-carbon is magnetic at room temperatures - which is extremely rare. Because of its specific atomic structure, Q-carbon emits tiny amounts of light. These unique properties have the potential to make Q-carbon very valuable for future applications in electronics.
The process is surprisingly inexpensive, partly because the method uses a laser which is already popular in conducting laser eye surgeries. Additionally, the method grows diamonds in nanoseconds. Narayan states that, “We can make a carat in about 15 minutes.”