Atomic carbon is a very short-lived species and, therefore, carbon is stabilized in various multi-atomic structures with different molecular configurations called allotropes. The three relatively well-known allotropes of carbon are amorphous carbon, graphite, and diamond.
Once considered exotic, fullerenes are nowadays commonly synthesized and used in research; they include buckyballs, carbon nanotubes, carbon nanobuds and nanofibers. Several other exotic allotropes have also been discovered, such as lonsdaleite, glassy carbon, carbon nanofoam and linear acetylenic carbon (carbyne).
The amorphous form is an assortment of carbon atoms in a non-crystalline, irregular, glassy state, which is essentially graphite but not held in a crystalline macrostructure. It is present as a powder, and is the main constituent of substances such as charcoal, lampblack (soot) and activated carbon. At normal pressures carbon takes the form of graphite, in which each atom is bonded trigonally to three others in a plane composed of fused hexagonal rings, just like those in aromatic hydrocarbons.
The resulting network is 2-dimensional, and the resulting flat sheets are stacked and loosely bonded through weak van der Waals forces. This gives graphite its softness and its cleaving properties (the sheets slip easily past one another). Because of the delocalization of one of the outer electrons of each atom to form a π-cloud, graphite conducts electricity, but only in the plane of each covalently bonded sheet. This results in a lower bulk electrical conductivity for carbon than for most metals.
The delocalization also accounts for the energetic stability of graphite over diamond at room temperature. At very high pressures carbon forms the more compact allotrope diamond, having nearly twice the density of graphite. Here, each atom is bonded tetrahedrally to four others, thus making a 3-dimensional network of puckered six-membered rings of atoms.
Diamond has the same cubic structure as silicon and germanium and because of the strength of the carbon-carbon bonds, it is the hardest naturally occurring substance in terms of resistance to scratching. Contrary to the popular belief that "diamonds are forever", they are in fact thermodynamically unstable under normal conditions and transform into graphite.
However, due to a high activation energy barrier, the transition into graphite is so extremely slow at room temperature as to be unnoticeable. Under some conditions, carbon crystallizes as lonsdaleite. This form has a hexagonal crystal lattice where all atoms are covalently bonded. Therefore, all properties of lonsdaleite are close to those of diamond.
The buckyballs are fairly large molecules formed completely of carbon bonded trigonally, forming spheroids (the best-known and simplest is the soccerball-shaped C60 buckminsterfullerene). Carbon nanotubes are structurally similar to buckyballs, except that each atom is bonded trigonally in a curved sheet that forms a hollow cylinder. Nanobuds were first reported in 2007 and are hybrid bucky tube/buckyball materials (buckyballs are covalently bonded to the outer wall of a nanotube) that combine the properties of both in a single structure.
Of the other discovered allotropes, carbon nanofoam is a ferromagnetic allotrope discovered in 1997. It consists of a low-density cluster-assembly of carbon atoms strung together in a loose three-dimensional web, in which the atoms are bonded trigonally in six- and seven-membered rings. It is among the lightest known solids, with a density of about 2 kg/m3.
Similarly, glassy carbon contains a high proportion of closed porosity, but contrary to normal graphite, the graphitic layers are not stacked like pages in a book, but have a more random arrangement. Linear acetylenic carbon has the chemical structure -(C:::C)n-. Carbon in this modification is linear with sp orbital hybridization, and is a polymer with alternating single and triple bonds.
This type of carbyne is of considerable interest to nanotechnology as its Young's modulus is forty times that of the hardest known material – diamond.(wikipedia.org)
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