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New solid form of carbon identified: material could offer a simple way to manufacture diamonds.

A glow-in-the-dark, magnetic, stronger-than-diamond material might be a bizarre new form of carbon.

Scientists call it Q-carbon. After diamond and graphite, it's the third known solid phase, or form, of the element, materials scientists Jagdish Narayan and Anagh Bhaumik report in the Dec. 7 Journal of Applied Physics.

Q-carbon's unusual properties make it ideal for many applications, Narayan says, from electronic displays to abrasive coatings on tools to biomedical sensors. The new material could also offer a quick, easy way to manufacture diamonds.

"If these claims stand up, the formation of a new phase of carbon would be extraordinary," says Penn State chemist John Badding. But, he notes, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Carbon takes several structural forms. At room temperature and pressure, atoms link up in 2-D honeycomb sheets called graphene that stack together to form graphite. Crushed under high pressure, carbon's atomic bonds buckle, popping atoms into the 3-D tetrahedral arrangement of diamonds. Other structures include nanotubes (rolled up graphene) and soccer ball-shaped buckyballs.

"When carbon goes into a new structural arrangement, really exciting properties can arise," Badding says. Diamonds and nanotubes, for example, are super-strong, and graphene conducts electricity.

Q-carbon is exciting, Narayan says, since no other solid carbon is magnetic.

Narayan and Bhaumik, of North Carolina State University, created the material by zapping a carbon pellet with a high-power laser beam, which blasted a thin carbon coating onto a flat sheet of sapphire about the size of a postage stamp. Then they turned the power down and hit the coat with just enough heat to melt it.

After the quick toasting, the carbon was rapidly cooled, or quenched (hence Q-carbon's name), transforming it into the new material. Instead of interlocking in the neat lattices of diamonds, carbon tetrahedrals jumbled together in an amorphous heap. It's as if someone smashed a diamond's structure, but left most of its building blocks intact, says Narayan. From these building blocks, the team grew tiny dots, films and needles of diamonds.

The team probed Q-carbon's structure by measuring the atoms' locations and bonds and by using Raman spectroscopy, a molecular fingerprinting technique. The fingerprints of diamond and nanotubes are clear-cut, but those of amorphous carbon are complex, says Badding. So it might be tricky to decipher exactly what material was created.

Caption: A new way to make diamond uses a laser to convert carbon into "Q-carbon," from which diamond crystals can grow, as shown in this electron micrograph.


Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.

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Title Annotation:MATTER & ENERGY; Q-carbon
Author:Rosen, Meghan
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 9, 2016
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