New substance harder than diamond

Until recently, diamond was the hardest known naturally occurring maerial. But a new process applied to carbon has uncovered a substance that a group of scienists say is even harder.

Researchers at North Caro ina State University say they have developed a technique for creating a substance they are calling Q-carbon, which represents a third phase, or distincorm, of carbon alongside graphite and diamond. The discovery could have many applicaions, notably in the fields of medicine and industry .

But Jay Narayan, the lead scientist of the study, has made a stunning claim. “In 15 minutes, we can make a carat of dia monds,“ Narayan said. A carat is 200 milligrams.

The process of creating Q carbon produces minuscule synthetic diamond “seeds,“ which can yield gems. While the amount of diamond is tiny com pared with traditional industrial techniques, the process can be carried out at room tempera ture and air pressure, the rese archers say , meaning it could be easier to reproduce on a large scale than other methods. But Narayan says the poten tial for creating synthetic gemstones pales next to possible applications of Q-carbon which the researchers said is magnetic, fluorescent and electroconductive.diamond

A tiny laser beam is trained onto a piece of amorphous carbon for 200 nanoseconds, hea ting it extremely fast. The spot then cools in a process known as quenching, creating Q-carbon.

Wuyi Wang, the director of research and development at the Gemological Institute of America, said , “if they are true, it will be very exciting news for the diamond research community .“

Narayan described possible uses for Q-carbon in creating synthetic body parts, improving tools like deep-water drills, and producing brighter, longer lasting screens for televisions and cellphones.

Casey Boutwell, who works on commercial licensing for scientific discoveries at the university’s office of technology transfer, said he was bracing for strong interest in the technique. “We don’t know exactly how this can be best applied, and we’re excited to get the market’s input,“ he said.

Neil Krishnan, the director of technology platforms at the Swedish industrial toolmaker Sandvik Hyperion, called Mr.Narayan’s discovery “extremely interesting.“ “I still think it’s at a nascent stage for us to consider it a competitive threat perse,“ he said. But it would definitely be a new technology that we’d be interested in.