(The Gist of Science Reporter) Schwarzite – New Form of Carbon Created   [JANUARY-2019]

(The Gist of Science Reporter) Schwarzite – New Form of Carbon Created 


Schwarzite – New Form of Carbon Created 

  • A completely new form of carbon has been created. 
  • Dubbed ​ Schwarzite’​, ​ this new form of carbon is negatively curved unlike fullerenes (the 3-D form of 
  • carbon) and graphene (the 2-D form of carbon) which have positive and zero curvature, respectively. 
  • Zeolites, crystalline form of silicon dioxides and more commonly used as water softeners in laundry detergents and to catalytically crack petroleum into gasoline, turned out to be the key component in taking this carbon form from theory into reality. 
  • The details of the research have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Origin of this development 

  • The theoretical development of schwarzites dates back to the 1880s when German physicist Herman Schwarz investigated curved surfaces that resembled soap bubble surfaces. Much  later, in the 1990s, when work on carbon cage molecules was in progress, Schwarz’s name became attached to the hypothetical negatively-curved carbon sheets. 
  • Researchers working in South Korea and Japan were investigating Zeolite-Templated Carbons (ZTCs) – crystalline form of silicon dioxide with carbon structure built into them and  checking for any interesting properties. 
  • They accidentally created schwarzites although they were unaware of it. 
  • The importance of the work of the scientists was noticed by the University of California, Berkeley, chemists who identified these ZTC materials as schwarzites based on their negative  curvature. 
  • Berend Smit, an adjunct professor of chemistry and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, along with his team demonstrated that it was possible to create these (ZTC) structures by injecting a vapour containing carbon into zeolites. Once inside, the carbon assembles into a graphene-like sheet that lines the walls of the pores in the zeolite. In doing so, the surface stretches to minimise the area. 
  • As schwarzites are topologically minimal surfaces, they tend to acquire negative curvature. The zeolite is then dissolved to produce pure schwarzites. 
  • According to scientists, ​ it would be possible to pack unusually large amounts of electrical charge into schwarzites which would make them better capacitors than conventional ones used today in electronics. 
  • Their large interior volume would also allow storage of atoms and molecules, which is also being explored with fullerenes and nanotubes. 
  • Moreover, their large surface area, equivalent to the surface areas of the zeolites they are grown in, could make them as versatile as zeolites for catalysing reactions in the petroleum and natural gas industries. 

Key findings 

  • The team found that of the approximately 200 zeolites created to date only 15 can be used as a template to make schwarzites and only three of them have been used to produce schwarzite ZTCs. However, over a million zeolite structures have been predicted. 
  • There could be many more possible schwarzite carbon structures made using the elite templating method, say the researchers who developed a way to predict which zeolites can be used to make schwarzites and which cannot be so used. 
  • Optimisation of these structures could prove highly beneficial. In the past discovering new forms of carbon has yielded exciting technological revolutions having great potential       applications in the form of fullerenes and graphene discoveries which were awarded by Nobel Prizes in Chemistry in 1996 and Physics in 2010, respectively. 
  • Though the application of schwarzites remains to be seen, the scientists speculate that their unique electronic, magnetic and optical properties can make them useful as supercapacitors, battery electrodes and catalysts, and with their large internal spaces ideal for gas storage and separation. 

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Courtesy: Science Reporter