Graphite, the kind you find in your pencil, is made from pure carbon. It has been used in its natural form as far back as the Neolithic Age. Diamonds are also made from carbon, a highly organized carbon which is less stable than graphite. Diamonds are known as one of the hardest minerals because of the strong bonding between its atoms. Other than diamond and graphite, other polymorphs of carbon include lonsdalite and chaoite.
At the end of last year however, a new member has joined this carbon family : the Q-carbon. Researchers at North Carolina State University have made a new form of carbon, which is also the third solid state of carbon. This new carbon is believed to exist naturally in the core of planets, including our own.
Researchers are very excited because they have also found success in synthesizing single crystals of Q-carbon at room temperature and pressure. Natural diamonds form at very high temperatures and pressures deep in the Earth’s mantle and grow over periods from 1 to 3 billion years.
The temporarily named Q-carbon has some interesting and new properties. For one, it is ferromagnetic, which neither graphite or diamond are. “Q-carbon’s strength and its willingness to release electrons make it very promising for developing new electronic display technologies,” said lead researcher Jay Narayan. Q-carbon is also harder than diamond and glows brightly when exposed to low levels of energy. It also conducts electricity better than diamond and can be made into microscopic single-crystal objects called nanodots. Narayan is hopeful this cheaper, easier to produce Q-carbon can be used in high-precision medical techniques and other industries. It will take some time to to learn more about Q-carbon and its properties but the future looks promising!