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developed by NSF-funded researchers in 1985, are a form of carbon-composed
clusters of 60 carbon atoms, bonded together in apolyhedral, or many-sided
structure composed of pentagons and hexagons, like the surface of a soccer
The molecule, also called "buckministerfullerene," is named
after U.S. architect Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) because of
the resemblance of the structure to the geodesic dome, which Fuller invented.
General belief and excitement over buckyballs lies intheir
sheer strength for use in building materials.
NSF-funded researchers Richard Smalley, Robert Curl (both of Rice University)
and Harry Kroto (University of Sussex, UK; non-NSF funded) shared the
1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of "buckminsterfullerene."
James Heath, then a graduate student at Rice and now a faculty member
at UCLA, also played a key role.
Subsequently, tubes of fullerenes with capped ends were also discovered.
Potential applications of buckyballs or "buckytubes" are as
circuit elements in nanoelectronic devices and/or molecular electronics.
There is considerable belief that in the 21st century buckyballs and buckytubes
the building blocks for future electronic devices in computers and communication
also the strongest materials known and are already finding applications
in composite materials, as surface coatings to improve wear resistance,
and as components in scientific instruments. Buckyballs may find application
in drug delivery systems.
It should be noted that support from the Army Research Office, the Robert
A. Welch Foundation, NSF and the Department of Energy is acknowledged
in the initial publication in Nature announcing the discovery of
NASA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) have also helped fund some
of Smalley's and Curl's subsequent research in this area.