diamonds (hardest known mineral). Binding structure: 4 electrons in 3-dimensional so-called sp3-orbitals
graphite (one of the softest substances). Binding structure: 3 electrons in 2-dimensional sp2-orbitals and 1 electron in s-orbitals.
Covalent bound sp1 orbitals are of chemical interest only.
Fullerite (fullerenes) are nanometer-scale molecules. In the simple form 60 carbon atoms form a graphitic layer which is bent to a 3-dimensional structure, similar to a soccer ball.
Lamp black consists of small graphitic areas. These areas are randomly distributed, so the whole structure is isotropic.
So-called 'glassy carbon' is isotropic and as strong as glass. Unlike normal graphite, the graphitic layers are not arranged like pages in a book, but are crumpled like crumpled paper.
Carbon fibers are similar to glassy carbon. Under special treatment (stretching of organic fibers and carbonization) it is possible to arrange the carbon planes in direction of the fiber. Perpendicular to the fiber axis there is no orientation of the carbon planes. The result are fibers with a higher specific strength than steel.
Carbon occurs in all organic life and is the basis of organic chemistry. This nonmetal also has the interesting chemical property of being able to bond with itself and a wide variety of other elements, forming nearly 10 million known compounds. When united with oxygen it forms carbon dioxide which is absolutely vital to plant growth. When united with hydrogen, it forms various compounds called hydrocarbons which are essential to industry in the form of fossil fuels. When combined with both oxygen and hydrogen it can form many groups of compounds including fatty acids, which are essential to life, and esters, which give flavor to many fruits. The isotopecarbon-14 is commonly used in radioactive dating.
Carbon was not created in the big bang due to the fact that it needs a triple collision of alpha particles (helium nuclei) to be produced. The universe initially expanded and cooled too fast for that to be possible. It is produced, however, in the interior of stars in the horizontal branch, where stars transform a helium core into carbon by means of the triple-alpha process.
Carbon (Latincarbo meaning "charcoal") was discovered in prehistory and was known to the ancients, who manufactured it by burning organic material in insufficient oxygen (making charcoal). Diamonds have long been considered rare and beautiful. The last-known allotrope of carbon, fullerenes, were discovered as byproducts of molecular beam experiments in the 1980's.
In its amorphous form, carbon is essentially graphite but not held in a crystalline macrostructure. It is, rather, present as a powder which is the main constituent of substances such as charcoal and lamp black (soot).
At normal pressures carbon takes the form of graphite, in which each atom is bonded to three others in a plane composed of fused hexagonal rings, just like those in aromatic hydrocarbons. The two known forms of graphite, alpha (hexagonal) and beta (rhombohedral), both have identical physical properties, except for their crystal structure. Graphites that naturally occur have been found to contain up to 30% of the beta form, when synthetically-produced graphite only contains the alpha form. The alpha form can be converted to the beta form through mechanical treatment and the beta form reverts back to the alpha form when it is heated above 1000 °C.
Because of the delocalization of the pi-cloud, graphite conducts electricity. The material is soft and the sheets, frequently separated by other atoms, are held together only by van der Waals forces, so easily slip past one another.
At very high pressures carbon has an allotrope called diamond, in which each atom is bonded to four others. Diamond has the same cubic structure as silicon and germanium and, thanks to the strength of the carbon-carbon bondss, is together with the isoelectronicboron nitride (BN) the hardest substance in terms of resistance to scratching. The transition to graphite at room temperature is so slow as to be unnoticeable. Under some conditions, carbon crystallizes as Lonsdaleite, a form similar to diamond but hexagonal.
Fullerenes have a graphite-like structure, but instead of purely hexagonal packing, also contain pentagons (or possibly heptagons) of carbon atoms, which bend the sheet into spheres, ellipses or cylinders. The properties of fullerenes (also called "buckyballs" and "buckytubes") have not yet been fully analyzed. All the names of fullerenes are after Buckminster Fuller, developer of the geodesicdome, which mimics the structure of "buckyballs".