Uppsala universitet
Skip links
På svenska

Linné on line arrow Physics and the Cosmos arrow Physics and the Cosmos arrow Crystals arrow Carbon in different forms arrow Buckminster fullerens

Buckminster fullerens

The buckminster fulleren has its name from the American architect Buckminster Fuller who introduced this shape, the geodetic dome, in the end of the 1940's. When the buckminster fulleren was first discovered it was produced in the laboratory with the help of laser beams, but today one thinks that it also exists in Nature among other places in soot and in outer space.

  This picture shows the bounds between the carbon atoms in the buckminster fulleren and you can clearly see that the buckyball has the same shape as a football (soccerball).

By clicking and dragging on the picture at the same time as you press the Ctrl-button you can zoom in and out. You can also move the picture sideways by pressing the Shift-button at the same time as you click and drag on the picture.

  In this picture you can see the positions of the carbon atoms and the bounds between them.
  The buckminster fulleren in turn can form a different type of crystal called fcc-type. The fullerens sit in the corners of a cube and in addition there is one extra fulleren in the middle of each side. This structure is then repeated in all directions.

Superconduction and storing of hydrogen gas

Some examples of possible applications of buckyballs is superconduction and storage of hydrogen gas. A pure buckminster fulleren is an insulator. But, if the fulleren is doped by adding atoms of different metals such as potassium and cesium, the electrical properties can be significantly changed. If small amounts are added one obtains a semi-conductor and with larger quantities a superconductor.

One has also realized that a buckyball can absorb large amounts of hydrogen atoms, almost one hydrogen atom per carbon atom, without the structure being modified. This could make buckyballs more suitable for storage of hydrogen gas than the metallic hydrides used today. In turn this would give the possibility for a new energy system. Another possible application is to use them to replace cadmium in batteries.


One form of carbon related both to the buckminster fulleren and to graphite is the so called buckytube. You get a buckytube by dividing a buckyball in the middle and inserting a tube made out of a layer of graphite. If one can produce sufficiently long buckytubes so that they form microfibers, then one could make threads which are much stronger than carbon fiber. In fact, studies have shown that buckytubes in the form of fibers are stronger than any other known material. One could also imagine to use buckytubes filled with metals as molecular wires, which are amthousand times as thin as the etchings used currently in computer chips.