Robert Curl, Jr. and the Discovery of Fullerenes

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Robert Curl, Jr.
Courtesy Tommy LaVergne/
Rice University

The 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Robert F. Curl, Jr., Richard E. Smalley and Sir Harold Kroto 'for their 1985 discovery of "fullerenes," geometric carbon clusters shaped in the pattern of soccer balls. 

Though initially a subject of controversy, the discovery  of spherical carbon molecules, also called "buckyballs," produced an entirely new branch of chemistry.

Scientists have since produced thousands of variations of the buckyball, including carbon sheets one atom thick and microscopic tubes with enormous strength and electrical properties. …

Using powerful lasers, the [scientists] vaporized carbon atoms from graphite and mixed them with helium gas to form carbon clusters when the mixture cooled. The result: an entirely new class of carbon structures. …

Curl's expertise in microwave and infrared spectroscopy helped to make scientific history … [and he] was key in attaining a degree of equilibrium in the carbon vapor that allowed the group to identify a unique, 60-atom configuration of carbon.''1

'Carbon 60 consists of 60 atoms of carbon arranged in hexagons and pentagons that resemble a soccer ball or a geodesic dome.'2

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Additional information about Robert F. Curl, Jr., fullerenes, and buckminsterfullerenes (buckyball) is available in electronic documents and on the Web.

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