Discovery of the Compound Buckminsterfullerene
Once in a while there are discoveries of compounds which surprise the scientific community. In 1985 such a discovery took place; it was the discovery of the compound named Buckminsterfullerene. The compound was the first of its kind: a big 60-atom molecule resembling a soccer ball, composed of carbon, and arranged in a perfect geodesic sphere. This compound was unique in its nature because it was the first time carbon was observed in a very stable and solid three-dimensional structure. Prior to this discovery, carbon was not thought to behave in such a manner: carbon had always been thought to be most stable when arranged in two-dimensional sheets. The discovery of this new carbon molecule created a new curiosity that still lives today. Carbon atoms form buckminsterfullerene by making hexagons and pentagons that snap together into a hollow ball. A molecule with a shape like this is sure to have interesting properties, and it does indeed. Strength, stability, superconductivity, and biological harmlessness are some of the favorites.
Buckminsterfullerene first gave scientists a hint of its presence in the early 1980's when tests on carbon soot from space showed inexplicable bumps on otherwise smooth graphs. Further tests involved a machine designed to produce clusters of atoms. The results were clear: carbon had a strong tendency to aggregate in groups of 60. More tests under different conditions put carbon 60 production virtually off the chart.
The prominence of clusters of 60 carbon atoms suggested that this was a particularly stable number, but the form of this molecule was a mystery. Such stability meant no dangling bonds. One possibility was that carbon's usual hexagons might have curved around to create a sort of chicken wire cage, which would eliminate dangling bonds. An architect's work gave the researchers an idea.
Buckminsterfullerene molecules consist of 60 carbon atoms linked together to form an almost spherical ball with the chemical formula C60. The bonds between atoms form a pattern of joined hexagons and pentagons that is similar to the panels on a soccer ball. The allotrope was given its name because its structure resembles the elaborate geometrical structures invented by American architect Buckminster Fuller. The individual molecules have become known as buckyballs.
For many years it was believed that the element carbon occurred as only three allotropes: diamond, graphite, and amorphous carbon. In each of these allotropes, the carbon atoms are linked together in a different arrangement, giving the form of the element different properties. In 1985, however, a new family of allotropes was discovered. Of these allotropes, which are called fullerenes, buckminsterfullerene has become the most famous. Other fullerenes have more carbon atoms, and their shapes resemble elongated versions of the original, soccer ball-shaped buckminsterfullerene. Once...