Fullerene: Things You Need to Know

A fullerene is a pure carbon molecule composed of at least 60 atoms. It is also commonly called buckyball, due its shape being similar to a soccer ball or a geodesic dome. This name is homage to the inventor of the geodesic dome, Buckminister Fuller, for whom the fullerene is more formally named.

Fullerenes are important, because many experts perceive them to be the driving force behind micro-electromechanical systems and nanotechnology. Current work on fullerene is mostly experimental and even theological. Now that you know what is Fullerene, here is some more information that you should be aware of when it comes to fullerenes.

Discovery and History

Fullerene was discovered by Richard Smalley, Robert Curl, James Heath, Sean O’Brien, and Harold Koto at Rice University in 1985. Robert Curl went on win the Nobel Prize for the discovery of fullerenes in 1996.

Structure and shape

As mentioned earlier, fullerenes are made up of only carbon atoms and can form various shapes and structures. Graphite very closely resembles fullerene, but whereas graphite is composed of sheets of carbon atoms that are linked in hexagonal rings, fullerenes also come in spherical shape, also called buckminister fullerenes or buckyballs

Types of fullerenes

Fullerenes have many structural variations, and here are some types commonly found:

what is Fullerene

  • Nanotubes- They are hollow in shape, have a very small dimension. Nanotubes are made of carbon that are wide and can range only a few millimeters in length.
  • Buckyball cluster – They are the smallest fullerene. The tiniest member of the buckyball family is C20 and the most commonly seen one is C60. C20 has great significance, since it naturally occurs in soot and coal.
  • Polymers – They consist of a carbon chain which are macromolecules connected by covalent chemical bonds.
  • Ball and chain dimers – These are two buckyball linked by a carbon chain.
  • Megatubes – As the name indicates, these are tubes that have a larger diameter than nanotubes. These types of tubes are mostly used in the transport of a variety of molecules having different sizes.

Unique properties

Here are some reasons that make fullerenes special:

  • They can behave as super conductors and display varying degrees of conductivity
  • They are very durable
  • They can be easily modified to tailor their properties, enabling modification to their electronic structure, physical characteristics and solubility

What’s in store for the future

With nanotechnology finding a prominent spot among emerging technologies in the world, fullerenes are poised to play a huge role in its advancement. Because of their unique chemistry and properties, scientists have discovered various applications for fullerene based compounds in the field of medical technology, superconductors, fiber-optics and also in military technology involving nanotech.

So the next time someone asks you what is Fullerene, you will have enough knowledge about it.