Researchers at North Carolina State University say they have developed a technique for creating a substance they are calling Q-carbon, which represents a third phase, or distinct form, of carbon alongside graphite and diamond.
The discovery could have many applications, notably in the fields of medicine and industry. But Jay Narayan, the lead scientist on the study, has made one claim about the technique that is certain to turn heads.
Researchers start with a substrate, such as such as sapphire, glass or a plastic polymer. The substrate is then coated with amorphous carbon – elemental carbon that, unlike graphite or diamond, does not have a regular, well-defined crystalline structure. The carbon is then hit with a single laser pulse lasting approximately 200 nanoseconds. During this pulse, the temperature of the carbon is raised to 4,000 Kelvin (or around 3,727 degrees Celsius) and then rapidly cooled. This operation takes place at one atmosphere – the same pressure as the surrounding air. The end result is a film of Q-carbon, and researchers can control the process to make films between 20 nanometers and 500 nanometers thick.