Researchers have identified a mysterious lab-made material as a new form of carbon.
Carbon honeycomb, a three-dimensional cluster of carbon sheets, can trap large amounts of gas within six-sided cells. The newly described structure could be used to store gases or liquids, or as a building material for more complex compounds, Ukrainian researchers report February 5 in Physical Review Letters.
Electron microscope images helped uncover the new structure, which was first created in 2009 by vaporizing thin carbon spindles in a vacuum. Subsequent tests of the nanometers-thick film revealed that the substance had different density and light-scattering properties than known forms of carbon like graphite or fullerenes. Carbon honeycomb cells might link up with cylindrical carbon nanotubes, the researchers say, but unlike nanotubes, the new structure holds up for months in a vacuum without degrading. The honeycomb also absorbs unusually large amounts of gases, including carbon dioxide and xenon, holding around twice as many gas molecules as nanotubes can.
Future research should aim to produce a more uniform carbon honeycomb, says Nina Krainyukova, a physicist at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. In current versions, some chambers are five-sided and their arrangement is random.
The structure has interesting potential as a stable, supportive material, says MIT chemical engineer Michael Strano. But he says more data about the honeycomb’s physical and chemical properties are needed.