The carbon revolution

10 March 2011

Dr Nicole Grobert, (right) University of Oxford, Department of Materials, & Dr Jonathan Hare a freelance research scientist introduced their lecture cum workshop to an attentive audience in the Rutherford lecture theatre at the IOP on 2 March 2011.

Dr Jonathan Hare and Dr Nicole Grobert (l-r)

Dr Hare began by introducing the various carbon structures including carbon chains which are secure structures and generally 1-20 carbon atoms long. Above about 20 atoms chains form rings and cage structures for example Buckminsterfullerene so named because its structure resembles that of the geodesic domes designed by the late American engineer Buckminster Fuller. Buckyballs, (Buckminsterfullerene), were prepared in 1985 by a team under the direction of Harold Croto in 1985. 

Sir Harold Kroto, University of Sussex, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996 together with Rice University scientists Robert Curl and Richard Smalley. Another example of a cage structure are carbon nanotubes measuring a few microns long and between 1 and 15 nanometres in diameter being cylinder-shaped, hollow structures, the walls of which are made up of carbon atoms.

Recently a single layer of carbon atoms, graphine has been discovered leading to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both at Manchester University, taking the 2010 Nobel Prize their research on graphene.

Dr Grobert explained different procedures for producing nanotubes using pyrolysis and arc discharge. She also explained how heating metal catalysts during fabrication gives exciting results including magnetic nanotubes.

Another highlight of the evening was audience participation in making a buckyball model requiring the use of 60 atoms with hexagonal structures but with 5 pentagons needed to close the structure. There was also a web link to Oxford University so that audience members could use the microscope there to zoom in and view various samples.

The last 25 years have seen a revolution in our understanding of the element carbon. This workshop explored the world of carbon, and introduced other carbon materials and their potential for future technological application.

Further information regarding carbon structures is at: -