Why are buckyballs so important?

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    Fullerenes are a class of closed, hollow carbon compounds that comprise only the third form of pure carbon ever discovered. The most remarkable of the fullerenes is the 60-carbon alkene buckminsterfullerene, also known as a Buckyball. This highly unusual molecule was named after the geodesic dome, a structure that exhibits a geometry that approximates a truncated icosohedral soccerball-shape, invented by visionary engineer, author, and architect R. Buckminster Fuller. The roundest known molecule in the world, the Buckyball has carbon atoms at 60 chemically equivalent vertices that are connected by 32 faces, 12 of which are pentagonal and 20 hexagonal. Due to their unique structure, Buckyballs are remarkably rugged, being capable of surviving collisions with metals and other materials at speeds in excess of 20,000 miles per hour, a pace that would tear most organic molecules apart. Higher and lower order Buckyballs containing different numbers of carbon atoms deviate from the strict geodesic dome structure and are consequently not as stable, but are still composed primarily of pentagons and hexagons. Smaller fullerenes, often termed Buckybabies, are said to have a shape akin to that of asteroids, while larger fullerenes may appear similar in shape to a pentagon.

    Edge of a C-60 Thin Film

    The discovery of fullerenes, which exhibit a number of notable characteristics that make the possibilities of their use seem almost limitless, was an important moment in the history of science. This achievement is generally attributed to Richard Smalley and Robert Curl of Rice University as well as Harold Kroto of the University of Sussex, whose experiments aimed at understanding the mechanisms by which long-chain carbon molecules are formed in interstellar space surreptitiously produced Buckyballs in the mid-1980s. In 1996, Smalley, Curl, and Kroto were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery. Yet, the discovery of fullerenes did not necessarily mean that there was a readily available way to study them. For a time, much of the work regarding fullerenes was chiefly theoretical since a practical means of producing significant amounts of the molecules was unknown until 1988, when astrophysicists Donald Huffman and Wolfgang Kratschmer realized that they had already discovered a way to produce them years before, though at that time they did not know the import of their actions. The Huffman/Kratschmer process soon made it possible to generate isolable quantities of fullerenes by causing an arc between two graphite rods to burn in a helium atmosphere and extracting the carbon condensate that resulted utilizing an organic solvent.

    C-60 Thin Film

    In 1991, Science magazine dubbed the Buckyball "molecule of the year," professing it "the discovery most likely to shape the course of scientific research in the years ahead," a statement that, years later, does not appear unsubstantiated. Studies exploring the extraordinary characteristics of Buckyballs and potential uses for them are ongoing and the molecules may eventually wind their way into daily life as practical applications are developed. One of the most promising areas of Buckyball research is in the realm of materials science, many scientists believing that the extremely stable molecules could yield new and improved lubricants, protective coatings, and other materials. But, even more exciting to some are the possible materials that may be produced by combining the carbon framework of the Buckyball with different atoms. The process of knocking one or more carbon atoms out of the Buckyball structure and replacing it with metal atoms is known as doping, and the molecule in its altered form is often referred to as a dopeyball. The electrical and magnetic properties of dopeyballs have been the subject of intense study, which has already resulted in the discovery that potassium-doped Buckyballs are capable of superconducting at 18 K and those doped with rubidium superconduct at 30 K.

    Edge of a C-60 Thin Film

    In addition to doping Buckyballs with other atoms, the hollow structure of the geodesic molecules makes it possible to trap atoms inside them like a molecular cage. This strange capability of Buckyballs has caught the attention of the medical community. Indeed, many researchers believe that eventually Buckyballs may be used to deliver medicines to specific tissues and cells, such as those that have been attacked by a certain bacteria, protecting the rest of the body from the toxic effects of potent pharmaceuticals. This same concept is currently being used to develop improved Medical Resonance Imaging (MRI) contrast agents and image enhancers that exploit the carbon cage of a Buckyball to shield patients from the radioactive materials inside. There are also many non-medical possibilities for atom-filled Buckyballs, which are termed endohedral metallofullerenes (EMFs) when the atoms trapped inside are metallic. For instance, EMFs are well on their way to being utilized in organic solar cells and may one day be crucial components of nanoelectronic devices, which many predict will eventually revolutionize the modern communications industry. Some EMFS have also shown potential for use as chemical catalysts that could be delivered to support surfaces in novel ways.

    C-60 Thin Film

    What is perhaps most amazing about Buckyballs is that despite their circuitous discovery in the laboratory, they have been naturally present on Earth all along. The earliest evidence that Buckyballs occur in nature was discovered by Arizona State University researchers Semeon Tsipursky and Peter Buseck, who found that a sample of rare, carbon-rich rock called shungit, estimated to have been formed between 600 million and 4 billion years ago, contained both C60 and C70 fullerenes. Since then, the fascinating molecules have also been identified in meteorites, impact craters, and materials struck by lightning. This new information has led some scientists to speculate about the role that fullerenes may have played in the development of life on Earth. Indeed, gases are known to become readily trapped inside the hollow molecules, and one research group has already found evidence of a form of helium in Buckyballs taken from the Sudbury crater (which contains the greatest known concentration of fullerenes in the world) that likely originated not inside of our own solar system, but within a red giant star. Thus, many consider it to be theoretically possible that Buckyballs carried from their stellar origin both the carbon essential to life and the volatiles that helped produce the planetary conditions necessary for life to begin.


    The fullerenes are a recently-discovered family of carbon allotropes named after Buckminster Fuller. They are molecules composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid, or tube. Spherical fullerenes are sometimes called buckyballs, the C60 variant is often compared to the typical white and black soccer football, the Telstar (football) of 1970. Cylindrical fullerenes are called buckytubes. Fullerenes are similar in structure to graphite, which is composed of a sheet of linked hexagonal rings, but they contain pentagonal (or sometimes heptagonal) rings that prevent the sheet from being planar.

    Prediction and discovery

    In molecular beam experiments, discrete peaks were observed corresponding to molecules with the exact mass of sixty or seventy or more carbon atoms. In 1985, Harold Kroto (of the University of Sussex), James Heath, Sean O'Brien, Robert Curl and Richard Smalley, from Rice University, discovered C60, and shortly after came to discover the fullerenes. Kroto, Curl, and Smalley were awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their roles in the discovery of this class of compounds. C60 and other fullerenes were later noticed occurring outside of a laboratory environment (e.g. in normal candle soot). By 1991, it was relatively easy to produce grams of fullerene powder using the techniques of Donald Huffman and Wolfgang Krätschmer. Fullerene purification remains a challenge to chemists and determines fullerene prices to a large extent. So-called endohedral fullerenes have ions or small molecules incorporated inside the cage atoms. Fullerene is an unusual reactant in many organic reactions such as the Bingel reaction discovered in 1993.


    Buckminsterfullerene (C60) was named after Richard Buckminster Fuller, a noted architect who popularized the geodesic dome. Since buckminsterfullerenes have a similar shape to that sort of dome, the name was thought to be appropriate. As the discovery of the fullerene family came after buckminsterfullerene, the name was shortened to illustrate that the latter is a type of the former.


    Buckminsterfullerene C60Buckminsterfullerene (IUPAC name (C60-Ih)[5,6]fullerene) is the smallest fullerene in which no two pentagons share an edge (which is destabilizing — see pentalene). It is also the most common in terms of natural occurrence, as it can often be found in soot.

    The structure of C60 is a truncated icosahedron, which resembles a round soccer ball of the type made of hexagons and pentagons, with a carbon atom at the corners of each hexagon and a bond along each edge.

    The C60 molecule has two bond lengths. The 6:6 ring bonds (between two hexagons) can be considered "double bonds" and are shorter than the 6:5 bonds (between a hexagon and a pentagon).

    Carbon nanotubes

    Nanotubes are cylindrical fullerenes. These tubes of carbon are usually only a few nanometres wide, but they can range from less than a micrometre to several millimetres in length. Their unique molecular structure results in unique macroscopic properties, including high tensile strength, high electrical conductivity, high resistance to heat, and chemical inactivity.


    For the past decade, the chemical and physical properties of fullerenes have been a hot topic in the field of research and development, and are likely to continue to be for a long time. In April 2003, fullerenes were under study for potential medicinal use: binding specific antibiotics to the structure to target resistant bacteria and even target certain cancer cells such as melanoma. The October 2005 issue of Chemistry and Biology contains an article describing the use of fullerenes as light-activated antimicrobial agents.[1]

    In the field of nanotechnology, heat resistance and superconductivity are some of the more heavily studied properties.

    A common method used to produce fullerenes is to send a large current between two nearby graphite electrodes in an inert atmosphere. The resulting carbon plasma arc between the electrodes cools into sooty residue from which many fullerenes can be isolated.


    Fullerenes are stable, but not totally unreactive. The sp2-hybridized carbon atoms, which are at their energy minimum in planar graphite, must be bent to form the closed sphere or tube, which produces angle strain. The characteristic reaction of fullerenes is electrophilic addition at 6,6-double bonds, which reduces angle strain by changing sp2-hybridized carbons into sp3-hybridized ones.[1] The change in hybridized orbitals causes the bond angles to decrease from about 120 degrees in the sp2 orbitals to about 109.5 degrees in the sp3 orbitals. This decrease in bond angles allows for the bonds to bend less when closing the sphere or tube, and thus, the molecule becomes more stable.

    Other atoms can be trapped inside fullerenes to form inclusion compounds known as endohedral fullerenes. Recent evidence for a meteor impact at the end of the Permian period was found by analysing noble gases so preserved. Metallofullerene-based inoculates using the rhonditic steel process are beginning production as one of the first commercially-viable uses of buckyballs.

    Fullerenes are sparingly soluble in many solvents. Common solvents for the fullerenes include toluene and carbon disulfide. Solutions of pure Buckminsterfullerene have a deep purple color. Fullerenes are the only known allotrope of carbon that can be dissolved in common solvents at room temperature.


    Solvents that are able to dissolve a fullerene extract mixture (C60 / C70) are listed below in order from highest solubility. The value in parentheses is the approximate saturated concentration.


    In 1999, researchers from the University of Vienna demonstrated that the wave-particle duality applied to macro-molecules such as fullerene.[2]

    Quantum mechanics

    Researchers have been able to increase the reactivity by attaching active groups to the surfaces of fullerenes. Buckminsterfullerene does not exhibit "superaromaticity": that is, the electrons in the hexagonal rings do not delocalize over the whole molecule.

    A spherical fullerene of n carbon atoms has n pi-bonding electrons. These should try to delocalize over the whole molecule. The quantum mechanics of such an arrangement should be like one shell only of the well-known quantum mechanical structure of a single atom, with a stable filled shell for n = 2, 8, 18, 32, 50, 98, 128, etc, i.e. twice a perfect square; but this series does not include 60. As a result, C60 in water tends to pick up two more electrons and become an anion. The nC60 described below may be the result of C60's trying to form a metallic bonding type loose combination.

    Safety issues

    Although buckyballs have been thought in theory to be relatively inert, a presentation given to the American Chemical Society in March 2004 and described in an article in New Scientist on April 3, 2004, suggests the molecule is injurious to organisms. An experiment by Eva Oberdörster at Southern Methodist University, which introduced fullerenes into water at concentrations of 0.5 parts per million, found that largemouth bass suffered a 17-fold increase in cellular damage in the brain tissue after 48 hours. The damage was of the type lipid peroxidation, which is known to impair the functioning of cell membranes. There were also inflammatory changes in the liver and activation of genes related to the making of repair enzymes. At the time of presentation, the SMU work had not been peer reviewed.

    Pristine C60 can be suspended in water at low concentrations as large clusters often termed nC60. These clusters are spherical clumps of C60 between 250-350 nm in diameter. Thus, nC60 represents a different chemical entity than solutions of C60 in which the fullerenes exist as individual molecules. Recently, results presented at the ACS meeting in Anaheim, CA suggest that nC60 is moderately toxic to water fleas and juvenile largemouth bass at concentrations in water of around 800 ppb. The first study of its kind on marine life, these preliminary results quickly spread across the scientific community. However, the overwhelming evidence of the essential non-toxicity of C60 (not nC60) in previously peer-reviewed articles of C60 and many of its derivatives indicates that these compounds are likely to have little (if any) toxicity, especially at the very low concentration at which it is used (~1-10 µM). [citation needed]

    A new study published in December 2005 in Biophysical Journal raises a red flag regarding the safety of buckyballs when dissolved in water. It reports the results of a detailed computer simulation that finds buckyballs bind to the spirals in DNA molecules in an aqueous environment, causing the DNA to deform, potentially interfering with its biological functions and possibly causing long-term negative side effects in people and other living organisms.[3]

    Mathematics behind fullerenes

    In mathematical terms, the structure of a fullerene is a trivalent convex polyhedron with pentagonal and hexagonal faces. In graph theory, the term fullerene refers to any 3-regular, planar graph with all faces of size 5 or 6 (including the external face). Using Euler's polyhedron formula, |V|-|E|+|F| = 2, (where |V|, |E|, |F| indicate the number of vertices, edges, and faces), one can easily prove that there are exactly 12 pentagons in a fullerene.

    The smallest fullerene is the dodecahedron--the unique C20. There are no fullerenes with 22 vertices. The number of fullerenes C2n grows with increasing n = 12,13,14... For instance, there are 1812 non-isomorphic fullerenes C60. Note that only one of the C60's, the buckminsterfullerene alias truncated icosahedron, has no pair of adjacent pentagons (the smallest such fullerene). To further illustrate the growth, there are 214,127,713 non-isomorphic fullerenes C200, 15,655,672 of which have no adjacent pentagons.

    At first they were considered laboratory-created freaks. Then some of them turned up in outer space. Now they're being sent to ORNL from the frozen reaches of northern Russia. What's going on here?

    RNL's Bob Hettich was on the case. He analyzed. He checked. He double checked. His conclusion?

    "Buckyballs. Definitely buckyballs."

    Buckyballs Video Clip (QuickTime, 2.3 minutes, 3 MB)

    These enigmatic clusters of carbon atoms have been puzzling scientists since 1985 when they were discovered in a research laboratory among the by-products of laser-vaporized graphite. Their hollow spherical structure, reminiscent of the geodesic domes of eccentric architect Buckminster Fuller, earned them the names "buckyballs" and "fullerenes."

    Qualities, such as their unique structure, heat resistance, and electrical conductivity, have fueled speculation about their possible applications in high-temperature lubricants, microfilters, more efficient semiconductors, and manufacturing processes.

    To learn more about buckyballs and how they are formed, researchers began to look for naturally occurring fullerenes, particularly on the earth. The first evidence that fullerenes occur naturally on the earth came to light when Arizona State University researchers Semeon Tsipursky and Peter Buseck examined a sample of shiny black rock, known as shungite, from northeastern Russia. Shungite is a rare, carbon-rich variety of rock believed to have been formed between 600 million and 4 billion years ago, although how it was formed is debatable. Electron microscopy of the shungite samples revealed a pattern of white circles with black centers--similar to micrographs Tsipursky had seen of laboratory-produced fullerenes.

    To confirm their suspicions, Buseck and Tsipursky sent a trace of powdered rock between two glass slides to Bob Hettich of ORNL's Chemical and Analytical Services Division for examination by mass spectroscopy, a technique that sorts molecules by weight and electric charge. Hettich had previously worked with Buseck to analyze samples from both meteorites and terrestrial rocks for evidence of fullerenes, but they had found none. The shungite sample was different, however; Hettich's analysis confirmed the presence of fullerenes in the rock.

    "We wanted to make sure we were looking at only what was in the sample and not distorting it in any way," says Hettich. So, he conducted two separate analyses of the sample. In the initial analysis, he used a pulsed laser to vaporize and ionize the sample, preparing it for analysis by mass spectroscopy. Hettich also analyzed carbon samples known not to contain fullerenes to ensure that none were being created by the laser vaporization process itself. The initial analysis confirmed the presence of both C60 and C70, two common fullerenes, in the shungite sample.

    To dispel any lingering doubt, Hettich repeated the analysis without a laser, this time using a 400°C stainless steel probe to vaporize the sample and introduce it into the mass spectrometer for ionization. This technique, known as thermal desorption, cannot create fullerenes in fullerene-free graphite material, yet it yielded identical results, confirming the presence of the two types of buckyballs in the sample.

    When Buseck and Tsipursky told Hettich that the rock had come from Russia and not a meteorite, he was somewhat surprised. "In the laboratory," says Hettich, "fullerenes are created in an atmosphere of inert gases, like helium, because common diatomic gases, like nitrogen and oxygen inhibit fullerene growth. This is why fullerenes are not found in ordinary soot, like that in household fireplaces. It seemed more likely to find naturally occurring fullerenes in meteorites, where interaction with these gases would be less of a problem."

    The discovery of fullerenes in the shungite sample has provided some hard information for buckyball hunters who have been working mostly on educated guesses and speculation. "We've been working with Peter Buseck for quite a while analyzing various samples, but until now we hadn't found any fullerenes," Hettich notes, "This discovery helps us redefine where to look." More recently, C60 and C70 have also been found in a sample of glassy rock from the mountains of Colorado. Known as a fulgurite, this type of rock structure is formed when lightning strikes the ground. Busek, Tsipursky, and Hettich speculated in a 1992 paper that lightning strikes could provide conditions that are favorable for the formation of buckyballs.

    The shungite fullerenes are notable not only for their earthly origin, but also because they may have been formed as solids--most laboratory-created fullerenes are grown in the gas phase. "This is the first example of solid-phase fullerene growth," says Hettich, "It has raised a lot of questions about how the rock was formed, how old it is, and how its composition may have changed over time. Because the shungite sample may be volcanic in origin, you can imagine conditions, like those in a volcano, that would be hot enough to form fullerenes and, at the same time, have little or no oxygen or nitrogen present. But right now, no one is sure exactly how these fullerenes were produced."

    "This kind of discovery raises more questions than it answers," says Hettich, "but that's not necessarily a bad thing."--Jim Pearce


    Sizing Up Fullerenes--"SANS Doute"

    "Sans doute!" a confident Frenchman might say--"without a doubt!" But in the brand new world of fullerenes, this sort of certainty is sometimes in short supply. Much of the uncertainty surrounding these newly discovered carbon clusters stems from their size--you could line up 25 million C60 molecules on a ruler before passing the inch mark.

    So, although tools like mass spectrometers can be used to distinguish heavier fullerenes from lighter ones--separating C120 from C180, for instance--researchers still have trouble answering some of the most basic questions about them. How big are they? Are they shaped like spheres, dumbbells, or what? How and where do other atoms bond to their inner and outer surfaces?

    Using a time-tested analysis technique of small-angle neutron scattering, appropriately labeled SANS, a team of researchers from ORNL's Biology, Chemical Technology, Health Sciences Research, and Solid State divisions is working to dispel some of the mystery surrounding fullerenes, including how they interact and bond with other elements and with each other.

    The preferred method of studying the structure of most materials is crystallography. This technique enables researchers to pinpoint the location of every atom in a sample. "Even though C60 has been crystallized, this is not always possible with other materials," says Stephen Henderson of ORNL's Biology Division. "Other techniques, like SANS, are more accessible, though they give less structural information." SANS requires only that the material be dissolved, rather than crystallized; then scattered neutrons are counted for several hours and the data are analyzed.

    The SANS research facility, located at ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor, is operated by George Wignall of the Solid State Division. There, dissolved fullerene samples are placed in the path of a neutron beam. As the beam passes through the sample, neutrons are deflected, or scattered, by carbon molecules in the solvent. This scattering is recorded by a detector, providing a two-dimensional pattern, or "signature," for the material, which can then be analyzed to determine the size and shape of the dissolved molecules.

    "The greatest significance of using SANS to analyze fullerenes is its ability to discern shapes," says Bob Haufler, a postdoctoral fellow in the Health Sciences Research Division (HSRD). "This is clearly fertile ground for new chemistry. I think it will be especially helpful in situations where atoms of hydrogen or metals are attached to the inside of the fullerenes." "It's also interesting to see how the fullerenes interact with the solvents," says Kathleen Affholter of the Solid State Division, "to see if polymers are forming, for example."

    The SANS facility "sees" objects in its neutron beam by keeping track of the neutrons the objects scatter. This scattering varies with the square of an object's volume, so when its diameter decreases by half, it scatters only one-quarter as many neutrons. As a result, the smallest fullerenes are near the lower limit of what the SANS can see--a factor in the past reluctance of researchers to use SANS in this type of research.

    Even though the outcome was in doubt, Wignall encouraged Affholter and others to pursue the project because the potential scientific payoff was so high. "If it hadn't been for George," Affholter says, "the project wouldn't have started in the first place." When Affholter introduced the idea of using the SANS facility for fullerene studies to Bob Compton of HSRD, he said his group was making some C120 and C180 molecules and they didn't know what they looked like--whether they were dumbbell-shaped or just bigger versions of the more or less round C60 and C70 balls. "We decided to look at the C60 and C70 balls first," says Affholter, "because they were available and their sizes and shapes were already known."

    Because of the relatively small sizes of these fullerenes, the researchers sought to optimize several factors in the experiments. First, the distance the neutron beam traveled through the fullerene solution was increased from a typical 2 mm to 20 mm, increasing the likelihood of interactions between the fullerenes and the neutron beam. "As a result," says Henderson, "we got incredibly good statistics after an hour or so. Often, for solution work, differences are hard to see even after 10 hours of counting."

    Second, the fullerenes were dissolved in a solvent that is relatively transparent to neutrons to maximize the contrast between the two. "A visual analogy," says Henderson, "would be observing blue balls in a transparent solvent, rather than in a blue solvent." Fortunately, the solvent that provided the best contrast also dissolved C60 and C70 most effectively, again putting more molecules in the path of the beam.

    The team hopes to expand its work to include further explorations of the basic chemistry of buckyballs, including imaging fullerenes that have been combined with other elements, such as hydrogen, fluorine, and various metals. They expect to be able to determine how many and where these "piggyback" atoms are attached to the inner and outer surfaces of the fullerenes. They also expect to be able to produce and analyze larger fullerenes.

    "It is difficult to get this kind of information from other techniques," Henderson says. "We also expect to be able to see whether these additional atoms have expanded the structure of the fullerenes. The actual mechanics and chemistry of adding other atoms to these molecules helps us understand how they react and combine with other elements. It could be that these materials--hydrogenated fullerenes, for instance--are better starting points for making other products."

    "This project was an excellent example of cooperation among four research divisions," says Affholter. "Everybody had something to add to the project. Everybody talked and pulled together to make it work." The success of this group bodes well for the future of the informal collaboration. "We've gotten together to determine what we want to do next," Affholter says. "We like doing this kind of work, and if we don't do it, people at other labs will."

    Sans doute!


    Evaluating Stealthier Submarine Designs

    Now that the "new world order" left in the wake of the Cold War has had a couple years to take shape, several trends are clear. One is that, despite predictions of a new prosperity and a peace dividend, conflicts, both ancient and new, continue to make the world a very dangerous place. Another more disturbing trend is that unfamiliar variables must be figured into the world's balance of power--an equation that had remained relatively unchanged for four decades.

    Far from causing peace to break out across the world, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union have actually increased the number of nations with access to sophisticated military hardware. In addition, the economic instability that accelerated the Communist bloc's demise continues unabated in its successor states, pressuring some of them to offer high-tech armaments to any government that can afford them.

    Among the weapons finding their way into the burgeoning international arms market are submarines. For example, last November The New York Times reported deployment of a U.S. nuclear submarine in the Persian Gulf following Russia's $600 million sale of three submarines to Iran. The deal went through despite U.S. objections, with the former Soviet republic citing its obligation to fill arms contracts and its need for hard cash.

    The U.S. submarine deployment, ostensibly conducted to check out the sonic properties of the Gulf, highlights the importance of acoustic stealth to effective submarine operations. The obvious advantage a submarine has over a surface ship is its ability to travel, conduct surveillance, or initiate an attack without attracting the attention of other vessels. However, in recent years the technology used to detect sound underwater has improved dramatically, rendering older, noisier subs ineffective for many tasks and putting a premium on developing new "silent-running" ships.

    Designing a submarine that can evade a state-of-the-art acoustic dragnet is no small trick, especially given the immense size of these ships. The pride of the U.S. fleet, the 171-meter-long (560-foot-long) Ohio class vessels, displace nearly 19,000 tons of seawater. Their counterparts in the former Soviet navy are the 171-meter-long Typhoon-class ships. These seagoing behemoths displace 25,500 tons of water, making them, by far, the largest underwater vessels ever built.

    To ensure that U.S. submarines maintain the upper hand in these underwater games of cat and mouse, the U.S. Navy, with help from ORNL, has constructed the David Taylor Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Naval Sea Systems Command.

    The product of this long-term joint effort is the Large Cavitation Channel Data Acquisition and Analysis System (LCCDAAS). By incorporating instrumentation that can be electronically steered to look at all aspects of a propeller, hull, or other component, this system is 5 times more sensitive than any other noise-detection facility and focuses on noises in three dimensions, instead of one or two. This capability allows researchers to more effectively isolate unwanted noises in the components being tested.

    The method of noise detection and isolation used by the LCCDAAS is called beamforming. Beamforming is a way of combining individual sensor data to enhance the signal-to-noise ratio for noise levels below that of the background noise in the ocean or test facility. Beamforming also enables researchers to determine where the noise is coming from.

    The beamformers use 95 sensors, or hydro-phones, in four frequency bands, from 1250 Hz to 20 kHz, covering four octaves of sound. A single hydrophone would pick up noise from all directions, but by using an array of hydrophones, beamforming "aims" the array at the target and keeps extraneous noise to a minimum.

    When a beamformer is operating in a large body of water, the distance between the beamformer and its target is much larger than the distance between hydrophones, so the sound waves reaching the hydrophones are assumed to be traveling in the same plane--arriving simultaneously at all of the sensors when the array is steered broadside to the target. In reality, sound waves are spherical, but for closely spaced hydrophones at a great distance from the target, the difference is negligible. When the target is much closer to the hydrophone array, as close as 2 meters (6 feet) in the LCC facility, the sound waves reach different hydrophones at different times, and the computer must make instantaneous time-delay adjustments to determine the source of the sound.

    To accomplish this feat in real time, the system's sensors funnel 4.6 million measurements each second to a bank of eight computers operating in parallel. The system can beamform 45 acoustic data channels simultaneously as well as monitor 128 facility-related sensors measuring parameters such as water temperature, pressure, and acidity level. This amount of computational firepower produces an instantaneous acoustic analysis of each component being tested. The computer system then integrates acoustic data with the facility measurements to give researchers a picture of the environmental conditions being simulated as the data are gathered.

    In a time when both national security and government spending often dominate the news, the LCCDAAS is proving to be doubly beneficial. Not only do the data the system produces translate into stealthier submarines with greater versatility and effectiveness, but they also streamline the design process and help avoid cost overruns by enabling designers to correct potential problems on scaled-down hulls and other components before they go into production.

    Future plans for the system include expanding capabilities at the LCCDAAS to decrease analysis time and possibly developing a more compact, shipboard version of the system to monitor experiments at sea. In the meantime, the LCCDAAS is helping ensure that U.S. forces can keep both a low profile and a watchful eye on things as the new world order evolves.--Jim Pearce


    Data Base Compiled on Forest Growth in

    Carbon Dioxide-Enriched Air

    If the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide were doubled, the total biomass of young tree seedlings apparently would increase by about one-third, based on the results of 58 controlled exposure studies. Averaged across forest species, this increase in biomass would be evenly allocated to leaves, stems, and roots, especially fine roots.

    These tentative conclusions are based on data collected by Stan Wullschleger and Rich Norby, both of ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division. They are compiling the first data base on the capacity of forest trees of different species to sequester carbon in a future world whose atmosphere is enriched in carbon dioxide.

    The ORNL data base should help clarify the growth responses of 73 forest tree species to elevated concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Extensive data bases have already been compiled to address the growth responses of agricultural crops to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

    Once completed, this data base will make it possible to determine whether growth responses to experimental carbon dioxide enrichment vary according to climate and whether carbon dioxide-induced increases in biomass above and below the ground are likely to be limited by nutrient and water availability, which may be linked to global warming. Information from this data base will be evaluated within the context of global carbon models to assess future global change scenarios.--Carolyn Krause

    The buckyball story is mostly a story about carbon. Carbon is an amazing element: more than 90 per cent of all known chemical substances are built around it, including those that form the basis of life, such as DNA and proteins.

    Carbon is well-studied: an entire scientific discipline, organic chemistry, is based on it. Yet despite all the research, it was only in 1985 that one of its most extraordinary features was discovered.

    Up until then, scientists knew of only two forms in which pure carbon occurred: diamond and graphite. Both these substances consist entirely of carbon atoms, but differ greatly in their structure and physical properties. In diamond, each carbon atom is bound to four other carbon atoms in a pattern of tetrahedrons. This structure makes diamond extremely hard.

    In graphite, the carbon atoms form sheets of linked hexagons, giving the appearance of chicken wire. Each carbon atom within a sheet forms strong bonds to three other carbon atoms, but the stacked sheets are only held together by weak bonds. This means that the sheets can slide past each other, giving graphite its soft and greasy feel.



    The discovery

    In 1985, British chemist Harry Kroto was puzzling over strange chains of carbon atoms that could be detected billions of kilometres away in space by radiotelescopes. He thought that these chains might form in conditions that are found near red giant stars.

    Kroto visited the US laboratory of Richard Smalley and Robert Curl, who were studying 'clusters' – aggregates of atoms that only exist briefly. Together they attempted to create high-temperature conditions in the laboratory, conditions similar to those near red giants. They vaporised graphite with a powerful laser in an atmosphere of helium gas.

    When they analysed the resulting carbon clusters, they found many previously unknown carbon molecules. These varied in size, but the most common molecule contained 60 carbon atoms.

    The structure of this molecule was not immediately apparent, although Curl, Kroto and Smalley knew that it was extremely stable. Only a spherical molecule, they reasoned, could produce this stability. After considerable debate, they worked out that the only geometric shape that could combine 60 carbon atoms into a spherical structure was a set of interlocking hexagons and pentagons (Box 1: Finding the molecular structure of buckyballs). Incidentally, an Australian theoretician at the University of California at Berkeley, Tony Haymet, published a paper at about this time predicting the existence of such a compound (he called it 'footballene').

    Kroto and his colleagues then discovered that the combination of hexagons and pentagons also formed the basis of a geodesic dome designed by the architect and engineer, R. Buckminster Fuller, for the 1967 Montreal World Exhibition. So they decided to name the new molecule buckminsterfullerene (these days shortened to fullerene or buckyball). Chemists write it as C60 .

    The announcement of the discovery in the prestigious scientific journal Nature created quite a stir in the scientific community – people quickly realised that buckyballs could be very useful substances (Box 2). In 1996 Curl, Kroto and Smalley were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery.

    The soccerball effect

    You could go to Montreal to get an idea of what a buckyball looks like. But perhaps an easier way is to look at a soccer ball: you will see that it consists of 20 hexagons (the white patches of leather) and 12 pentagons (the black patches), exactly the same pattern as that of the new molecule.

    Buckyballs have more in common with soccerballs than just their looks. They spin (much faster than a soccerball – at more than 100 million times per second). If they are squeezed and then released they spring back to their original shape. And they bounce if they are hurled against a hard surface such as steel.

    Other shapes

    The C60 buckyball is the most famous of the fullerenes but by no means the only one. In fact, scientists have now discovered hundreds of different combinations of these interlocking pentagon/hexagon formations. Examples include

    ‘buckybabies’ – spheroid carbon molecules containing fewer than 60 carbon atoms,

    ‘fuzzyballs’ – C60 buckyballs with 60 hydrogen atoms attached,

    ‘giant fullerenes’ – fullerenes containing hundreds of carbon atoms, and

    C70 – molecules with 70 carbon atoms, shaped a bit like a rugby ball or an Australian Rules football.

    Buckyballs in bulk

    Curl, Kroto and Smalley were the first to make and identify buckyballs in the laboratory but they were only able to produce tiny quantities. The race was on to manufacture buckyballs in large enough quantities for detailed investigation of their properties and potential.

    In 1990, five years after the first synthesis of buckyballs, German and American scientists independently made larger quantities of buckyballs. They heated graphite rods to a high temperature by passing an electric current between them, then separated the fullerenes from other carbon compounds in the resulting soot (fine carbon particles). About 75 per cent of the crystals were C60 molecules, 23 per cent were C70 and the rest were larger molecules. Soon after this manufacturing breakthrough, dozens of groups around the world were making fullerenes. It wasn't long before research papers began to appear at the rate of almost one a day.

    The not-so-new form of carbon

    But it turns out that we've actually been making fullerenes unknowingly for thousands of years – whenever we burn a candle or an oil lamp. The candle's flickering flame vaporises wax molecules containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Some of these molecules burn instantly in the blue heart of the flame. Others move upwards into the yellow tip where the temperature is great enough to split them apart. The result is carbon-rich soot particles that glow, giving off gentle yellow light. Amid this soot are buckyballs.

    Buckyballs also exist in interstellar dust and in geological formations on Earth. So while they are new to science they are reasonably common in nature.

    Chemical and physical properties of buckyballs

    Buckyballs and other fullerenes intrigue scientists because of their chemistry and their unusual hollow, cage-like shape. Buckyballs are extremely stable and can withstand very high temperatures and pressures. The carbon atoms of buckyballs can react with other atoms and molecules, leaving the stable, spherical structure intact. Researchers are interested in creating new molecules by adding other molecules to the outside of a buckyball and also in the possibility of trapping smaller molecules inside a buckyball.

    Carbon tubes

    As well as carbon spheres in many sizes, scientists have discovered tubes of carbon. These nanotubes, or buckytubes, are created in a similar way to buckyballs: by passing an electric current between graphite rods. Nanotubes formed in this way are a series of tubes packed inside each other. When a tiny dose of cobalt, nickel or iron catalyst is added during manufacture, the result is an empty nanotube with a wall just one atom thick.

    You can imagine an empty nanotube as being formed from a flat sheet of graphite. The sheet, like a length of chicken wire, is rolled into a cylinder with the opposite edges forming a perfect join. Nanotubes can be extremely long (eg, a nanotube might contain 1,000,000 carbon atoms).

    Nanotubes exhibit some peculiar characteristics. For example, experiments suggest that they are incredibly tough. Other properties – such as electrical conductivity – seem to vary with the particular geometry of the tube. This means it could be possible to have two concentric nanotubes, one inside the other, the outer one acting as an insulator and the inner one conducting a current.

    Scientific fun and games

    The emergence of the buckyball and its cousins has been a stimulus to both scientific research and the human imagination, although we are yet to see any practical applications (Box 2: The many potential uses of fullerenes). One day, perhaps, they will have a major impact on our lives. In the meantime, hundreds or even thousands of chemists, physicists and molecular biologists in laboratories around the world continue to play molecular football with these most intriguing of structures.

    Hope that I helped!

  • Cirric
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Hi. Buckyballs and their cousins are a new technology. The are extremely strong, can super-conduct electricity in certain conditions, and have many possible uses (and possibly many dangers as well). Buckyballs (buckminsterfullerenes) made of 60 carbon atoms in a sphere (looking somewhat like a soccer ball) were the start of it all.

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    4 years ago

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  • 3 years ago

    What Are Buckyballs

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  • 1 decade ago

    they have opened a huge field of research on carbon based molecules.

    One of them is the carbon-fiber nanotubes, which can lead to an inimaginable list of applications (including replacement of muscular fibers, "hydraulic" actuators etc!)

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