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What Is an Allotrope?

An allotrope is a kind of matter that is made of only one kind of atom. Some examples are carbon, sulfur, and phosphorous. This unique molecular configuration tends to display very particular physical properties.

Some substances have different kinds of allotropes, which will reflect different qualities. For example, carbon’s allotropes include fullerene and steel. Fullerene is known to be lighter yet stronger. Phosporous’ allotropes are of different colors, including red, black and white. White phosphorous is known to have a quicker reaction to air (oxidation triggers the creation of phosphorus pentoxide). Its molecular structure is also different—it exists individually, unlike red phosphorous, which is found in chains.

However, there is usually one allotrope that is more common than all the rest. Oxygen’s allotrope 02 is found in much greater amounts than the allotrope O3 (widely known as “ozone”).

Carbon has the most number of allotropes. Scientists have already found eight of them, including amorphous carbon allotrope (manifestations include coal and soot), carbon nanofoam, carbon nanotube, the diamond allotrope, fullerene allotrope, graphite, lonsdaleite, and ceraphite allotrope.

Carbon allotropes display very, very different qualities. Some carbon allotropes are soft, while others are rock hard. Some are opaque, while others are transparent. Some are quite inexpensive; others cost a small fortune per gram. It is intriguing, for example, how the humble piece of coal is molecularly related to the priceless diamond.

Some allotropes are naturally found; others are artificially created in the laboratory, and are synthesized to create new, stronger or lighter substances. Scientists are on the verge of creating new kinds of carbon allotropes, which (in theory) display astounding strength; however new technology is required to actually manufacture the product.

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