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Aussie boffins discover fifth form of carbon

Strewth - it's magnetic!

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Boffins at Australia’s National University in Canberra have made a new - and magnetic - form of carbon which they have dubbed nanofoam. Because of its unique magnetic properties, it could have important medical applications, the team says.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society in Montreal, Canada, John Giapintzakis of the University of Crete said he has studied the foam using an electron microscope, and had determined that it was a fifth form of carbon. He also discovered its magnetic properties.

Carbon assumes this new foam-like structure when subjected to high-energy laser light. When the carbon reached around 10,000°C, it shaped itself into a lattice, or web of carbon nanotubes, according to a report on Nature.

Although the foam loses its magnetism after a few hours at room temperature, even this short amount of time opens up several possible applications, according to Giapintzakis. It could make it possible to use magnetic resonance imaging to observe blood-flow, for example.

Nature also suggests that it could be used to treat tumours, because it is bad at transferring heat: David Tománek of Michigan State University said that the foam could be injected into tumours and then heated. The foam would absorb the heat, and kill the tumour as the temperature rose. ®

Those other four forms of carbon in full:

  • Diamond: Hardest substance known to man, good for transmitting light, too. Particularly favoured by J'Lo, especially in its slightly pink form.

  • Graphite: Remember pencils? The old timers used them to write stuff before computers were invented. That's carbon too. The layers in graphite slip over each other very easily, which makes it great for writing with, and a useful industrial lubricant.

  • Bucky Balls, aka Buckminsterfullerines: These are the roundest and most symmetrical large molecule we know of. They are formed from 60 atoms of carbon bonded together in a combination of pentagons and hexagons to form a ball, just like a soccer ball. Not yet sponsored by Nike.

  • Nanotubes: Nanotubes are very strong cylinders of carbon just one nanometre across, and up to tens of nanometres long. They might be used to strengthen polymers, and could be thought of as prototypes for a one-dimensional quantum wire.

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