Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Correction on The Fullerenes

A few entries back I spoke at length about my enthusiasm for Nanomaterials.  In my entry I mentioned that I believed Buckyballs, or Buckminster Fullerenes were discovered in soot, as in the soot that a candle leaves on things in its flame.  Indeed, it is known that BuckyBalls or Carbon 60 or whatever you'd like to call the spherical molecules of carbon, are found in soot.  But their discovery was far more interesting than I realized.

Recently I have been watching college lectures on various subjects of the Physical Sciences and mathematics.  I have had so much fun doing this, and the resource is so endless (and fruitful) that I finally carried my television to the basement where I hope a flood alleviates responsibility to put the CRT down.  In any case it is presently below grade, and that is something of a burial.

I mention these lectures by way of recommending them.  If you would like to partake, just search for You Tube college lectures and stand back.  There are a lot.  Then quickly choose one, without much thought, for you will be surprised at the incredible fecundity of almost any subject.  

What I watched while eating my dinner tonight was not a college lecture but rather the descendent of a series of public lectures in England put on by Sussex college.  The speaker was none other than one Harold Kroto of the University of Sussex.  He was the one who suggested that the BuckeyBall be named after Buckminster Fuller, partly due to having visited one of Fuller's domes in Canada.  One of the true documented discoverers, along with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley, Harold Kroto gave an incredible speech as to the way it happened.

It turns out that Carbon 60 was first seen in the dying light of a red giant star (in 1985, my dates were 1996, wrong, in other words).  The title of his speech was, "A Carbon Sphere Falls to Earth From the Heavens."  Basically true.  Through mass spectroscopy of the light coming from the star, the team of scientists were able to postulate that a Carbon 60 molecule was there.  Coming out of the star.  What they could not answer, nor even speculate upon with any real understanding was what a Carbon 60 molecule might look like.  Interestingly enough, this question had been raised in the popular science literature, and amongst various theorists.  But these scientists were not aware of that, and besides, had no time (the thought) to go trolling the research library for such materials (this was 1985, after all).  

First Harold Kroto thought of a model of the sky he had made his children, but at the time he was not close to his home enough to retrieve the model (he had the model in his hands during the lecture however).  His model had been hexagonal and geodesic, he had not realized, like a soccer ball (he calls it a football, but you know).  

Then Harold Kroto visited Buckminster Fullers dome in Canada and something clicked.  The dome had a pentagon in and amidst its hexagons allowing for the crucial topological trick of taking a sheet of hexagons and "doping" them into a curved, geodesic structure.  Given the math of the bonds required to satisfy a molecule with the straightforward name "Carbon 60", there was a real hint here:  add pentagons to the hexagonal structure to satisfy the sixty atoms bonds.  To make a long and very interesting story short, he did that. It was in this manner that the structure of the soccer ball, the Buckminster Fullerine was described and its potential dreamed about.  

Kroto was extremely generous in crediting other scientists (and artists especially) with inferring these structures by observation of the natural world, and extrapolating the rules that govern its mag- and minutiae.  

He even showed a picture of a Tortoise back, the hexagons visible in the structure of its shell, but also the crucial pentagons that, as he put it, keeps the back end from getting too drafty.  His British wit was in fairly constant evidence.  Very worthwhile lecture.

Here is a link:  Kroto Talk.   Just hit the play button to get the process started.  At top is Dr. Kroto's picture.

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