fullerenes

Higher and foundation tier

The Eden Project domesBuckminster Fuller was an American architect, author and inventor. He was widely known for promoting geosidic dome like structures similar to the domes at The Eden Project in Cornwall. These domes are constructed from interlocking hexagons and a few pentagons.

In the 1985 scientists discovered a new allotrope of carbon. One in which the carbon atoms are arranged in "football" like structure or structures consisting of hollow cages or tubes. These spheres and tubes are called Fullerenes after Buckminister Fuller. Fullerene molecules are often shaped like hollow spheres or footballs, or long thin tubes or even ellipsoid (squashed or flattened spheres). The sizes of these spheres and tubes varies considerably.

Buckyballs

The first fullerene discovered consisted of 60 carbon atoms, C60, covalently bonded together into a football type structure composed of hexagons and pentagons. It was named buckministerfullerene after the American architect Buckminster Fuller. These ball like structures are often referred to as buckyballs. These buckyballs belong to a family called fullerenes. These molecules consist of hollow football spheres or tubes of carbon atoms, sometimes the spheres are distorted into capsule like structures. The image below shows the typical structure of a buckyball or fullerene molecule.

Fullerene bucky ball

Uses of Fullerenes

Carbon nanotubes

Imagine taking a layer of graphene and folding it to form a hollow cylinder, well carbon nanotubes are open cylinders of carbon atoms arranged in hexagons. These nanotubes have diameters measured in nanometers, they are 10 000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. They have incredible tension strength, many times that of steel and they are good electrical conductors. Each carbon atom within the nanotube only makes three bonds leaving one free delocalised electron. These uses nanotubes have exciting possibilities including for example uses as artificial muscle fibres in surgery and drug delivery devices in medicine and dentistry as well as uses in many composite materials.

carbon nanotubes

Uses of Fullerenes

fullerene molecule carrying drugs Buckminsterfullerene, C60 was the first buckyball to be discovered in 1985. However many more of these football like cage structured molecules have since been discovered, including C70, C72,C76C78 and many more including a C100 molecule and a small cage consisting of only 20 carbon atoms, C20. One of the main areas of application is in the field of medicine. There is promise that the cage structure of buckyballs could be used to deliver drug molecules directly to cancer cells and help reduce the toxic effects of these chemotherapy drugs on healthy body cells.

Other medical uses include uses of buckyballs as anti-viral agents. There is some promise that buckyballs and derivatives of them act as anti-viral drugs, particularly in the fight against the HIV virus, which produces AIDS in humans. Derivatives of buckyballs also appear to act as anti-inflammatory agents inside the body as well as antioxidants. Being very hard, almost as hard as diamond also opens up many opportunities of research for possible uses of buckyballs and other fullerenes, including uses in solar cells, polymers and as lubricants.

Next