Carbon Structures

The Building Blocks of Our World.



Four Structural Forms of Carbon




Carbon 60 or Buckminsterfullerene


Quick Background Information

Carbon is unique in its ability to form a close to ten million different compounds.

Carbon forms a stable structure with itself in many triangular variations.

Graphite is a Non-metallic, dull, crystalline form.

Diamonds are a Glossy, crystalline form.

Carbon has been used in its elemental forms in industry as early as when Thomas Edison used it to make filaments for his light bulbs.



Amorphous Carbon Structure

This carbon structure is visually a highly disordered structure.

It is for this reason that it lacks structural integrity .

This carbon structure forms at the edges or is the residue of other elemental compounds.

The disorder of this structure allows it to have many available bonds and and is responsible for building more complex carbon based molecules.



An irregular carbon structure used to fire smelting plants., This piece has had all the excess chemicals and elements burned off and all that remains is the jagged and irregular carbon structure.


The following sample of coke has been treated and refined to be a more consistent, but still irregular Carbon structure.



We can see the process that coke and similar irregular carbon structures, or carbon based molecules ,take through either a series of artificial treatments, or a lengthy natural process involving pressure and heat within the earths crust, to become more ordered into graphite.

This process is commonly know as graphitisation.



A regular lattice structure that forms in layers, each molecular combination forms in a rhombus pattern, consisting of two triangular bonds.

The layering pattern means graphite can be very brittle in shear between layers and can fracture, but is very strong in a direction perpendicular to this because of the ordered dense structure that it forms.

Below we can see an example of the natural formation patterns of graphite.  Note the triangular formation of the crystalline structure, which originates at the molecular level and expands exponentially, in a fractal manner that is common in all carbon structure formations.



Carbon is used in Japan in reactors and particle accelerators, like the ones shown, as regulators because the dense lattice of graphite slows and regulates the motion of neutrons, while remaining inactive.  this makes it extremely useful in the nuclear industry. 


Graphite Products

The following links lead to the sites of industrial companies, creators of carbon rods used in arc welding and other graphite products.  Shown below are examples of industrial seals made of graphite because the graphite structure is very strong in a tight sealed connection and does not need additional lubricant to seal it because of its density.  This means it is very strong in the direction of the seal, making it a very important material in this industry.

The graphite used in pencils is commonly a compressed powder and the residue it leaves on the paper is due to the shearing of the graphite with the friction of the paper.



Diamonds form in a very dense triangulated tree dimensional structure.  This makes them one of the hardest materials on earth and extremely valuable, not only for their durability and glassy appearance as jewelry but also in their industrial applications.  The layered pattern we saw in graphite has now overlapped and become denser but large and irregular shaped diamonds are so hard that they may fracture along the lines of the bonds if struck bluntly with force.

Natural Diamond

Naturally diamonds form in regular patterned three dimensional structures based on a triangular growth pattern, again showing the fractal aspect of its structural formation.

For more information about the harvesting of natural diamonds please see National Geographic Issue March 2002 or

Cubic Diamond Face

 This cubic high density lattice structure forms both naturally and artificially and can be found in a variety of colors and clarities..

The diamond is one of the hardest substances on earth, making it very useful in the industrial field.

Diamond Face Octahedron


Note the triangular formations found within larger triangular formations in this example of a octahedron diamond face structure.  This begins to resemble the fractal divisions of triangles that we discussed in class.

Diamond Face Tetrahedron

Here we can see a dense repetition of triangles within each other marking the growth pattern of this diamond face tetrahedron.

CVD Synthetic

CVD formation is a common synthetic form grown for industrial use, or for inexpensive jewelry.

These artificially created diamonds have a very specific spectral analysis, easily identifying them as a synthetic.


HPHT Synthetic

This is one of the more elaborate forms of diamond that are synthetically produce.

These synthetic diamonds are created by crystallizing carbon molecules left in a on a synthetic surface by the extraction of another normally gaseous element such as nitrogen.

Diamond Film

This is a sample of a film of diamond material that has been synthetically formed using a application treatment of nitrogen.


Rough Diamonds

Natural diamonds are mined in various locations around the world and the demand and value placed upon them as objects has resulted in violence and wars.

This is a very large rough diamond at 265.82 carats. It will eventually be cut into four sizable diamonds for the high price retail market.


The proper techniques for cutting a diamond of specific cut are very rigid and because of the high demand and high value of diamonds as jewels.


Cut Diamonds

"At 102.23 carats, it’s the largest flawless oval cut diamond in history."

High demand for quality diamonds has made them a valuable commodity, and they may be used as currency in war or as collateral assets to back up a loan or mortgage.

If you were to strike this stone properly it could fracture.

Diamonds are valued based on their clarity, color, and lack of inclusions.

Frosted Strawberry

This strawberry has been frosted with 100 minute diamonds, each of which has been hand cut by one of 800,000 skilled laborers found in the Indian diamond trading market and where purchased for ninety dollars.

Here we can see the fractal scales of the cut structures.


Carbon 60



Its discovery and proposed application won a Nobel Prize in 1985, awarded to Prof. Lawrence Scott and his team of twelve scientists.

Carbon 60 is known as Buckminsterfullerene, named after Mr. Buckminsterfuller, whose work we have already discussed, primarily regarding the geodesic sphere. This molecular structure has been deemed the "Bucky Ball."


Fullerene Variations

Here are some larger fullerene molecules that consist of a different number of atoms, each creating a unique structure.

Notice how the transitional ones, between spherical combinations, are oval shaped.




Larger Fullerene Variations

Here we see these variations of Fullerene taken to a must greater scale, up to Carbon 960.

Fullerene molecules can be used to combine with free radicals, as it forms weak bonds at each of its junctures, which can be used someday in the fight against cancer.

These molecules again shows a fractal patterning in this natural structure.


More Fullerene Variations

These variations of fullerene are meant to combine with other elemental molecular structures.

We see the beginning of what is known as the Nano tube.



The nano tube is a variation of fullene that has become elongated in its structural patterning due to its molecular arrangements.

They are extremely strong and cannot be crushed. The only way to destroy them is to break a bond at the molecular scale.



Fractal Pattern Growth

This is an example of the fractal pattern growth of carbon fibers from nanotubes.

A fiber is made up of bundles of bundles of bundles of Nanotubes aligned in the same directions, making the fiber extremely strong but also extremely light in weight.


Carbon Fibers

This is an image of treated carbon fibers, ready for use in many applications in the industrial world. The fibers shown here have been treated to remove residual irregular structures and show the clear remaining fibers


Carbon Fiber Ends

Here we can see the ends of a grouping of fractured fibers. We can see by the scale just how small these are.  This is why work with nanotubes at a molecular scale is so expensive.

We can see how the fibers have broken irregularly at an angle because of their internal structuring.  Again, in some ways they are very strong and in others very brittle.

Carbon Fiber End

In this image of the end of a single carbon fiber we can see that the fracture is rough and irregular, unlike the shear fractures we have seen before.


Rigid Structures

This is an example of a sample material made of carbon fibers.

It is much stronger than steel or any other metallic molecule in ratio to its density. This allows us to create light-weight, but very strong materials.


Uses of Carbon Fiber.

Here are some examples of products and materials made from carbon fibers, including cloth and bicycle frames.




In summary we can look in a new way at the four types of carbon structures.




Carbon 60












Bibliography bonding.html
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Marsh, Harry Introduction to Carbon Science,  Newcastle, U.K.: Buttersworth &Co. Ltd. 1989
Nazaré, M.H. (Neves, A.J.) Diamond, London, UK: INSPEC 2001
Price, Edward E. Atomic Form, London: Longsman, Green & Co. 1922
Radovic Ljubisa R. Chemistry and Physics of Carbon, University Park, Pennsylvania: Marcel Dekker Inc.  2001