A replacement for diamonds? Scientists discover Q-carbon

Scientists have discovered a new method for manufacturing diamonds.

REUTERS/Erik De Castro
A Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) official shows a pink diamond of the confiscated jewellery collection of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos during the appraisal by Sotheby's inside the Central Bank headquarters in Manila November 27, 2015.

The process of making a diamond is nothing short of laborious.

Made from a highly organized carbon, diamonds form naturally after being buried 100 miles deep into the earth’s core, where they are heated and pressurized at about 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, until cooling to their solid form. Humans however, have found ways to simulate these conditions in laboratories to produce manmade diamonds. 

But after decades of testing, a team from North Carolina State University has invented a way to expedite the diamond-making process – and it doesn’t involve compressing carbon under extreme pressure.

Dubbed “Q-carbon,” the new diamonds are magnetic at room temperatures, more robust than diamonds, and let off a small glow. Scientists discovered Q-carbon by shooting loose carbon through a laser beam for 200 nanoseconds to melt “amorphous diamond like carbon.”

“Converting carbon to diamond has been a cherished goal for scientists all over the world for the longest time,” wrote Jagdish Narayan, lead author on the paper published this week in the Journal of Applied Physics.

More than an alternative for making cheaper, faster diamonds, Q-carbon will likely be used for medicinal purposes – like nanoneedles, microneedles, nanodots and films. Using the Q-carbon method is less expensive because it already relies on lasers used in laser eye surgeries. The lasers can grow the diamonds in a matter of seconds.

But even more, it’s a way for scientists to understand how magnetism may work on other planets that don’t have active dynamos. 

“We’ve now created a third solid phase of carbon,” Narayan told CNN. “The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets.”

Diamonds have been mined for over 2,000 years, and were used by first-century Romans to carve cameos. They’ve since been used as a symbol of preciousness, wealth, and power. In 1947, an ad agency famously coined the term “diamonds are forever.”

The diamond industry shifted after the discovery that synthetic diamonds could be produced inside laboratories, which reduced the price of diamonds but didn’t drive the market down. Whether Q-carbon will drive down the diamond industry’s prices is unclear. But scientists seem hopeful about the potential discoveries the Q-carbon may bring.

“Having a new way to create [diamonds] – especially one that voids a lot of the infrastructure of the old methods – is great,” physicist Keal Byrne, a postdoctoral fellow at the Natural History Museum told Smithsonian. “It’s’ a really interesting discovery. [But] what comes from it – now that’s the interesting part.”  

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.