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OU researcher's work may lead to major industrial innovation

Thursday, August 9, 2012
OU researcher's work may lead to major industrial innovation
A research team headed by Oakland University Assistant Professor of Physics Yuejian Wang has solved a 50-year-old, material physics riddle and gained insight that promises to offer modern industry a new, affordable cutting material.

In a paper recently published in the scholarly journal Scientific Reports, Wang and fellow researchers confirm that when placed under high pressure at room temperature, graphite is transformed into an extremely hard substance known as M-carbon. Until now, the crystal structure of compressed graphite has been unknown. Although there have been many theoretical predictions, none had been confirmed by experimental verification.

What has long been known, however, is that graphite, when subjected to both high pressure and high temperatures, is transformed into diamond. Wang's research suggests that it is possible to create M-carbon with high pressure alone.

"If we can make M-carbon stable at ambient conditions – without the intense heating required to form diamond – it could have a huge impact on industry because it will rival the diamond's hardness and potentially be cheaper to produce," he said.

The discovery comes as a result of a three-year study that allowed Wang, while a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University, and fellow investigators to analyze the crystal structure of compressed graphite in detail. In addition to confirming the M-carbon structure, they found that the compressed substance returns to its original graphite state once the pressure is released.

Wang and his colleagues are now preparing to study methods of preserving the M-carbon structure once pressure is released. This work, like the compression work that preceded it, will be conducted at national synchrotron facilities such as those located at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"This work exemplifies the relevant, innovative and ambitious thinking that the state of Michigan and the nation will need to stay on top of a rapidly advancing global marketplace," said Oakland University President Gary Russi.

"We're proud to have Dr. Wang and a host of equally ambitious researchers contributing vital and exciting new knowledge to disciplines across the academic and professional spectrum."

To learn more about Wang's research, view the study published by Scientific Reports or contact him at ywang235@oakland.edu.