What are fullerenes? (with photos)

It is often said that a spherical fullerene looks like a football.

Fullerenes are a form of carbon molecule that is neither graphite nor diamond. They consist of a spherical, ellipsoid or cylindrical arrangement of dozens of carbon atoms. Fullerenes were named in honor of Richard Buckminster Fuller, an architect known for designing geodesic domes that resemble spherical fullerenes in appearance. A spherical fullerene looks like a football and is often called “buckyballs”, while cylindrical fullerenes are known as “buckytubes” or “nanotubes”.

The 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Professors Robert F. Curl, Jr., Richard E. Smalley and Sir Harold W. Kroto for their discovery of fullerenes.

Fullerenes were discovered as an unexpected surprise during laser spectroscopy experiments at Rice University in September 1985. The 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Professors Robert F. Curl, Jr., Richard E. Smalley and Sir Harold W. Kroto for its discovery. Fullerene molecules consist of 60, 70 or more carbon atoms, unlike diamond and graphite, the more familiar forms of carbon.

Fullerenes occur only in small amounts naturally, but various techniques for producing them in large volumes have been suggested. The modern technique uses a benzene flame to produce fullerenes. Other techniques include vaporization of graphite rods and catalytic chemical vapor deposition from ethanol vapor.

The fullerene family of carbon molecules has a range of unique properties. A fullerene nanotube has a tensile strength about 20 times greater than high-strength steel alloys and a density half that of aluminum. Carbon nanotubes demonstrate superconducting properties and unique nanotubes up to 4 centimeters in length have been synthesized. A number of companies exist to develop nanotubes for commercial applications, including computer memory, electronic wires and materials science. One day, nanotubes could be used to create futuristic computers impossible with conventional lithographic techniques.

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Nanotubes have been a central focus in the buzz surrounding the emerging field of “nanotechnology”. The association is sometimes misleading; When physicist Richard Feynman originally proposed building manufacturing systems that assemble products at the molecular level (“molecular nanotechnology”), he was talking about tiny, productive machine systems rather than creating exotic nanoscale materials like fullerenes using macroscale chemistry techniques. A small factory built entirely with fullerenes would be considered molecular nanotechnology, but fullerenes alone would not. This is a critical distinction often overlooked by some academics, venture capitalists, and technologists who like to use the word “nanotechnology.”

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