Why is the fullerene molecule -- and similar structures the cornerstone of nanotechnology?

Buckminsterfullerene, or the Buckyball, refer only to C60 (compounds containing 60 atoms of just carbon). They were compared in the previous carbon module to diamonds and graphite which are also carbon compounds. They are approximately spherical, hollow, arranged in interlocking hexagons and pentagons, akin to the geodesic dome created by architect Buckminster Fuller, hence the name. The structure also looks very much like a soccer ball. There are other fullerenes structures that are similar cage-like molecules with more or less carbon atoms, but still composed of pentagons and hexagons. The fullerene is a rather large size for a molecule.

[Fullerene structure shown using the Jsmol]

What is the Geometry of Fullerene Molecule?

Click the left mouse button over the image and move the cursor to rotate the fullerene molecule.

They are approximately spherical, hollow, arranged in interlocking hexagons and pentagons , akin to the geodesic dome created by architect Buckminster Fuller, hence the name. The structure also looks very much like a soccer ball.

Try this -- Measure the angles formed --

Click on a atom while holding the left mouse button down, drag to atom two, click once, drag to atom three, click twice.

Note about 3D molecules -- Our files on this page now use Jsmol instead of Jmol. These files make use of Javascript which permits viewing of molecules on tablets, phones and easier use on Macs. For the Jmol version of this page see fullerene_jmol. - Jsmol is best viewed with the Chrome browser.

[Nanotube structure using the Jsmol]

How big is a Nanotube?

Nanotubes are stiffer than steel, and are essentially rolled-up sheets of carbon hexagons. Electrically, nanotubes can be insulators, semiconductors, or conductors and are expected to exhibit magnetoresistance qualities .

Try this!!

Measure the diameter of a Nanotube.

Rotate the nanotube/

You are looking looking down the barrel. Draw a diameter between two carbon atoms, by double clicking on one carbon atom using the left mouse button, dragging the cursor to the second carbon atom and double clicking.

You will probably have to draw several lines to ensure you have an accurate measure. Rotate the image to see all the connection points.


From Small Times, Big Times News

" Oct. 17, 2003 - Buckyballs, the soccer ball-shaped molecules that helped kick-start interest in nanoscale science and technology in the 1990s, finally made the big time. The biotech startup C Sixty announced Thursday that it is partnering with the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. to develop drugs based on buckyballs, formally known as buckminsterfullerenes. " for full article click here.


The web defines nanotechnology as any technology related to features of nanometer scale: thin films, fine particles, chemical synthesis, advanced microlithography, and so forth. Nanotechnology is therefore more of a 'catch-all' description of activities at the level of atoms and molecules that have applications in the real world. Although nanotechnology stocks are in a frenzy, and the media talks of nanotechnology as being the "new technology", research in the field has actually been ongoing for many years. In the last 15 years over a dozen Nobel prizes have been awarded in nanotechnology, including the development of the scanning probe microscope (SPM), and the discovery of fullerenes. It was perhaps the discovery and potential applications of the fullerene molecule (also called a buckyball) and a related structure, the buckytube (or nanotube), that has sparked the current interest in the field.


Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have caught the imagination of scientists for everything from superconductors to transistors and diodes, material strengtheners, ion storage for batteries and more. One of the most promising applications is a thin panel called a field emitter display (FED). Both Motorola and DuPont are presently investigating this application.

Depending on the charge, the flexible nanotube can bend upward, away from the electrode, or downward, into contact with the electrode. The resulting signals form the building blocks of a digital device. "The best thing is, these switches are working," Norm Armour from LSI said. "We built some test devices, and we fired them up the other day, and they worked." The nanotube-based memory can act like "flash" memory, a reprogrammable type of memory that can retain data even when power is switched off.

Fullerenes (C60) are being investigated for their potential use as a drug-delivery system for cancer, AIDS and other diseases.

A long term objective of nanotechnology is to build nano-sized machines which can be inserted into the human body in order to detect and repair diseased cells is a real possibility. Current research however, is only at the primitive levels designing simple components e.g., a carbon nanotube based gears.

Read more about BuckyBalls
Read about Nanotubes and look at images made with a scanning Tunneling Microscope

For more Resources see our Nanotechnology Resource Page

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