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It Came From Outer Space
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It Came From Outer Space

Credit: Nicolas Nova
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/20056291@N00/2920004672
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The world-famous architect Buckminster Fuller was probably best known for his design of the geodesic dome. Beginning with his early concepts in 1947, he developed a revolutionary structure that allowed for the enclosure of more space without having a lot of internal support. This dome was patented in 1954. Today there are over 300,000 domes in place, ranging from radar facilities to shelters, as well as a number of children’s playgrounds.

Amazing But True

  • Graphite has long been used to study the effects of energy on surfaces since this material consists of sheets of carbon atoms bonded together in hexagons. In experiments carried out in the 1980s, it was learned that intense bombardment with lasers would lead to the formation of a complex three-dimensional cyclic structure that resembled the geodesic domes pioneered by the architect Buckminster Fuller. These soccer ball-looking molecules were named buckminsterfullerenes, soon shortened to buckyballs. Harold Kroto of the University of Sussex, Robert Curl and Richard Smalley at Rice University shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery.
  • Credit: Rori.D
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rorid/8761925408/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    A Buckyball displayed in Madison Square park in New York City [Figure2]

     

  • Buckyballs have been found in outer space. The first sign was of the compounds in the vapor phase in a number of locations throughout our galaxy and others. The first solid form was seen in 2012 around a pair of stars. On earth, these compounds are seen in the gas from burning candles and in rocks that are formed when lightning strikes them. Extraterrestrial buckyballs found in meteorites have been shown to contain helium isotopes in ratios that exist only in outer space.
  • A number of applications have been or are being developed for buckyballs. Drugs could be incorporated into the inside of the structure for safe delivery to the site of cancer. Being entrapped, the drug will not be attacked by enzymes and inactivated before it reaches the delivery site. Since these compounds have strong superconducting capabilities, there are also a number of potential applications in the electronics field.
  • Watch a video about buckminsterfullerene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdhliSrJAyA

Can You Apply It?

Use the links below to learn more about buckyballs, then answer the following questions:

  1. What was the experiment that led to the discovery of buckyballs?
  2. How many carbons are in the most stable form of this material?
  3. When were buckyballs first discovered in outer space?
  4. What is the basic structure of a carbon nanotube?
  5. How could buckyballs be used as a lubricant?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Nicolas Nova; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/20056291@N00/2920004672; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Rori.D; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rorid/8761925408/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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