Carbon (C) is one of the most ubiquitous elements ever discovered, forming a fundamental component of all living things and existing as one of the most abundant elements in the universe. Owing to its high density by mass and its ability to form myriad complex species, carbon is a foundational element in the universe’s evolutionary scheme. In fact, cosmic carbon analysis is a key process in studying the formation of planets and the origin of life.
The sheer versatility of carbon is demonstrated far beyond the formation of planetary systems and at significantly smaller scales. While total carbon analysis is still widely performed in industrial sectors to determine the carbon content of both inorganic and organic samples, advanced carbon analysis has increasingly turned towards the advanced materials sector.
Materials science was redefined in 2004 when Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov first isolated monolayer graphene from a graphitic sample via exfoliation. This two-dimensional (2D) allotrope of carbon was the catalyst required for materials engineers to begin exploiting the unique properties of single- or few-layer atomic structures. Now, it is possible to generate cylindrical sheets of monolayer carbon and concentric cylindrical structures, known respectively as single- and multi-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT/MWCNT). This angstrom-scale engineering requires a novel approach to carbon analysis to assist in the ongoing development of advanced carbon-based materials.
Tools for Carbon Analysis: Outlining Raman Spectroscopy
Raman spectroscopy is the analytical method of choice when it comes to nanoscale carbon analysis. It is non-destructive – so does not consume valuable samples – and it provides quantitative insights into the chemical structure, morphology, and phase of carbon samples based on non-contact methods. It is known as a light scattering technique, using an incident laser source as an excitation channel to interrogate carbon nanomaterial samples.
Light scattered from molecules in a sample may assume the same frequency as the incident light (Rayleigh scattering), or it may be modulated by molecular vibrations and scattered at a different frequency (Raman scattering). Typically, the latter occurs on an extremely small order (approximately 0.0000001%), yet this small frequency modulation is distinct to molecular vibration which is in turn indicative of chemical composition at the scale of the atomic lattice.
Measuring the Raman spectra of nanomaterials is a key part of modern carbon analysis. Literature typically reports the D-, G-, and G’-Bands of the Raman spectra, which shows the characteristic distribution of spectral information for carbon nanomaterials. This offers detailed insights into the crystallinity and microstructure of carbon samples at the molecular level, making it the ideal tool for carbon analysis in quality assurance and control processes for advanced materials engineering.
Challenges of Carbon Nanomaterial Analysis
One of the enduring challenges of modern carbon analysis is the continual development of design and manufacturing processes. There are countless methods currently available for synthesizing single- and few-layer carbon structures, from chemical vapor deposition (CVD) and exfoliation to innovative bottom-up approaches. Carbon analysis in such a diverse area of research requires Raman spectroscopy with sufficient precision and versatility to meet the unique demands of today’s 2D materials research.
Carbon Analysis with B&W Tek
B&W Tek specializes in portable Raman spectroscopy for rapid carbon analysis in cutting-edge materials science research. We offer the trusted i-Raman instrument range for high-throughput screening of carbon nanomaterials in various formats. This small footprint device is ideal for challenging working environments with plenty of existing instrumentation, which requires additional support from an industry-leading portable Raman technique.
Learn more about our Portable Carbon Raman Analyzer, and read about graphene analysis in action with our portable Raman spectrometers in the application note Graphene Raman Analyzer: Carbon Nanomaterials Characterization. Or, if you have any questions for the B&W Tek team, simply contact us today.