Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterThe fullerene carbon molecule is one of the more well-known allotrope of carbons. The full name is Buckminsterfullerene and it is a carbon allotrope whose molecular structure is an icosahedral sphere which looks like a soccer ball. The first fullerene predicted was the Carbon 60 fullerene. This was predicted by Eiji Osawa of Toyohasi University of Technology in 1970. However this was discounted until its discovery in 1985 through mass spectroscopy by Harold Kroto, of the University of Sussex and a team of scientists from Rice University. This discovery led to the discovery of other fullerenes.
Fullerene molecules don’t have to be just made up of 60 carbon molecules. In fact there is a whole family of fullerenes including Carbon 20, Carbon 74, and fullerenes as large Carbon 540. This just shows the wide variety of fullerenes that can exist. Another new discovery is that fullerenes don’t have to be carbon at all. Boron Bucky balls have been discovered as well.
So why do fullerenes have their distinctive name? The name is derived from that of Richard Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome. He worked on making state of the art structures that were similar in shape to the molecule. His contributions as well as the resemblance of his designs had the molecule named in his honor.
The fullerene has many properties that make it desirable for use in chemistry and the tech industry. First fullerenes include nanotubes. These amazing fullerenes have properties such as being strong conductors as well as having extraordinary tensile strength several times that of steel. Along with this fullerenes have variable solubility and reactivity depending on manipulation. Another new discover is a new form of nanocarbon called graphene which is like an unfolded nanotube fullerene can lead to amazing new developments in computer processors.
In all we can see that fullerenes are curious carbon allotropes with a wide set of properties and applications that can revolutionize technology as we know it. When you consider that Mr. Fuller dedicated his life to making communities more forward thinking in technology this fullerene family of carbon allotropes prove a more than worthy legacy.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Space Elevators. Listen here, Episode 144: Space Elevators.