A recent discovery of a new carbon allotrope (E Meirzadeh, et al., 2023) has shaken the scientific community. It will have potential implications for the folks dabbling in the quantum computing realm 🖥️. But first, we have to be reminded more then we are taught:
Allotropes are different forms of the same chemical element with differing physical and chemical properties. Imagine a box of Legos. Lets imagine we have a all identical Lego bricks, these are like having the pure element. However, you can arrange these bricks in different patterns. Allotropes are like different arrangements of bricks made of the same element. For example, carbon has multiple allotropes such as graphite (the lead in pencils) and diamond (the precious gemstone) which have vastly different properties. Graphite is soft and dark in colour, while diamond is hard and clear. Guess what, this chemistry underpins the multibillion dollar lab diamond 💎 industry . There is even an allotrope affectionately named bucky balls! Even better a whole new allotrope of carbon has just been discovered.
So the newly discovered allotrope of carbon looks a little different to all the others. It has been described as the super atomic cousin of graphene. A seen above a single layer of graphite is graphene. You make graphene by putting sticky tape on a lump of coal… But the recently discovered allotrope shown on the right is called graphullerene and is a lot harder to make.
So what is all the hype about? Graphullene is a 2 dimensional polymer. It’s a novel chemical compound that could facilitate the manufacturing of new nano-materials. Think a robot that makes more robots. It is also incredibly thermally conductive, which makes it the perfect heat shield! Additionally, quantum computers might just make use of it as it is “a pristine interface that might find usefulness in new quantum materials applications” said Austin Evans.
Other examples of allotropes include oxygen, which exists in two forms: diatomic oxygen (O2) and triatomic oxygen (O3), also known as ozone. O2 is the common form of oxygen that we breathe, while O3 is found in the upper atmosphere and plays a crucial role in protecting the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Allotropes can also be formed by chemical compounds. For instance, sulfur exists in two forms: rhombic sulfur, which is a yellow, crystalline solid and monoclinic sulfur, which is a dark-red, amorphous solid.
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Allotropes can be formed under different physical conditions, such as temperature, pressure, and the presence of other elements. For example, at high temperatures and pressures, carbon can exist in the form of a metallic allotrope known as “buckyball” which is a soccerball-shaped ⚽ carbon molecule composed of 60 atoms, it is also known as “fullerene” and we have a diagram of it above.
It is important to note that allotropes may have different chemical reactions and reactivity, for example graphite is a good conductor of electricity while diamond is an insulator.
In conclusion, allotropes have different physical and chemical properties despite being made of the same atoms. They are an interesting area of study in chemistry and can have important applications in various fields, such as medicine and technology. We are still seeing new allotropes being synthesised and designed every day!
- E Meirzadeh et al, Nature, 2023, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05401-w