It was first produced in the laboratories of The Carborundum Company, Trafford Park, Manchester, UK, in the mid 1950's by Bernard Redfern (BR) the inventor, a materials scientist and diamond technologist. He noticed that Cellotape he used to hold ceramic (rocket nozzle) samples in a furnace maintained a sort of structural identity after firing in an inert atmosphere. He searched for a polymer matrix to mirror a diamond structure and discovered a resole resin that would, with special preparation, set without a catalyst. Using this phenolic resin, crucibles were produced. Crucibles were distributed to organisations such as UKAEA Harwell. BR left the Carborundom Co., which officially wrote off all interests in the glassy carbon invention. Whilst working at the Plessey Company laboratory (a disused church!) in Towcester, UK, BR received a glassy carbon crucible for duplication from UKAEA. He identified it as one he had made from markings he had engraved into the uncured precursor prior to carbonisation. (It is almost impossible to engrave the finished product.) The Plessey Company set up a laboratory first in a factory previously used to make briar pipes, in Litchborough, UK, and then a permanent facility at Caswell, near Blakesly, UK. Caswell became the Plessey Research centre and then the Alan Clark research Centre. Glassy carbon arrived at the Plessey Company Limited as a fait accompli. BR was assigned two associates for the production of glassy carbon. F. C. Cowlard was an administrator who previously had some association with Silane and J. C. Lewis was a chemical assistant. Large sections of the precursor material were produced as castings or machined into a predetermined shape. Large crucibles and other forms were manufactured. Carbonisation took place in two stages. Shrinkage during this process is considerable but absolutely uniform and predictable. Some of the first ultrapure samples of Gallium Arsenide were zone refined in these crucibles. (Glassy carbon is extremely pure and unreactive to GaAs). Patents were filed and the name "Vitreous Carbon" presented to the product by the son of BR. Glassy/Vitreous Carbon was under investigation used for components for thermonuclear detonation systems and at least some of the patents surrounding the material were rescinded (in the interests of national security) in the 1960s.
Despite his majority contribution to the research, invention, development and production of glassy / Vitreous carbon, references to Bernard Redfern were not obvious in subsequent publications by Mssrs F. C. Cowlard and J. C. Lewis. (cf Cowlard, F. C., and Lewis, J. C., J. Materials Sci., 2, 507-512, (1967). )
Original boat crucibles and precursor samples exist.
Note that glassy carbon should not be confused with amorphous carbon. This from IUPAC: "Glass-like carbon cannot be described as amorphous carbon because it consists of two-dimensional structural elements and does not exhibit ‘dangling’ bonds." .
It exhibits a conchoidal fracture.
Comparable reaction on platinum:
The difference of 2.1 V is attributed to the properties of platinum which stabilizes a covalent Pt-H bond.