Buckyballs: a unique molecular solution in search of a problem


Buckyballs - officially "Buckminsterfullerenes" - are tiny footballs made of 60 carbon atoms.Their unique spherical structure is extraordinarily stable,and can be used to trap other atoms in a cage. They may be the most important building blocks of a molecular Meccano set,and may one day be used to create atomic scale machines and structures.

Scientists and Laser Scientists make buckyballs by aiming a laser at a carbon target. Buckyballs were first found in 1985, but only in minute quantities - just enough to detect

Scientists are rushing to explore their astounding possibilities.So far,likely possibilities are uses as superconductors,or virus killers - and NASA even believes buckyballs of nitrogen (instead of carbon) might be the best possible rocket fuel.There are other buckyballs containing larger numbers of atoms,which are more egg-shaped than spherical.

This "electron density map" shows the pattern of five and six atoms rings that make up a molecule of buckminsterfullerene. The cage of atoms can trap a larger atom inside Electron Density Map

The most useful product of buckyball fever may be  a different breed of exotic carbon molecule.Graphite is made up of layers of carbon atoms arranged in linking hexagonal rings. Japanese researchers experimented with rolling these flat sheets into a tube.The result - a "nanotube" - is a very strong and stiff whisker of carbon.If a way to produce nanotubes on a large scale can be found - and the early signs are encouraging - they may be the molecular stars of the next generation of advanced materials.



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