Getting to know Buckyballs

Buckyballs do not refer to a game of buck or balls. Buckyballs are a common name for almost the first nanoparticles to be discovered by scientists in 1985. Also known as fullerenes, buckyballs are a composition of carbon atoms linked to other carbon atoms in a unique structure that resembles a soccer ball. Hence the name, buckyballs. You can learn more about them at meetup.com with other enthusiasts.

Discovery

In 1985, three scientists Harold Kroto, Robert Curl and Richard Smalley created the first buckyball at Rice University. They subsequently won Nobel Prize for it in 1996. Even though the discovery was made in 1980’s, theoretical proposals and research had been underway for more than 20 years before that.

Structure

Buckyball is a collection of carbon atoms. One carbon atom is linked to other three carbon atoms via covalent bonds. The connection is such that the atoms form the pattern on a football, giving the overall structure of buckyballs, a spherical look. The interior of this sphere is empty and that is hoped to give many practical applications to buckyballs.

Properties

Usually, buckyballs contain a total of 60 carbon atoms and in this form, they are called C60 Fullerenes or simply C60. They may contain as less as 20 atoms or over a 100 atoms.

Buckyballs are very sturdy and strong due to the covalent bonds they exhibit. They can endure high pressure as well as high temperatures as a result of this strength.

Buckyballs also have the ability to form covalent bonds with other atoms easily. So, it is reactive on the surface.

Buckyballs are excellent conductors of electricity as they can readily accept electrons from other materials. Hence they can be used in wires or solar cells to transmit electricity quickly and cheaply.

They are insoluble in water but can mix with certain other solvents. In liquid form, C60 is purple in color.

Production

Fullerenes are produced usually by placing graphites between two electrodes and sending a charge through them. The plasma arc created as a result of this creates fullerenes that can then be isolated from the soot.

Application

There is little in the way of an actual application for buckyballs yet. Extensive researches are being conducted by scientists to bring buckyballs into practical use. Right now, they are used by mixing in other materials to strengthen them. They are also being studied for medical use. Using buckyballs in solar cells may also cheapen the solar cell technology.

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