Saturday, October 29, 2005

Richard Smalley, 1943-2005

Richard Smalley shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Robert Curl and Harold Kroto for the discovery of buckminsterfullerene, a molecule made from 60 carbon atoms. It was named after Buckmister Fuller, an American architect and inventor who designed the geodesic dome, a structure that looks like the fullerene molecule.

The discovery of buckyballs was significant for many reasons, but a few stand out. First, it represented a new allotrope of carbon (allotrope is a fancy word for the for structural forms an element can assume). Before this, only graphite and diamond were known allotropes. Since then, nanotubes have been discovered, as have higher fullerenes with many more carbon atoms. At the time, however, it wasn't known that elemental carbon could be so diverse.

Second, with the exquisite symmetry of the molecule, the properties were expected to be remarkable, and they are.

Finally, discovering that carbon could form into perfect little sphere-like molecules started people thinking seriously about nanotechnology.

Generally, the discovery of a single molecule gets little press. With the discovery of buckminsterfullerene, Professor Smalley was instrumental in the touching off of a fertile new area of scientific exploration.


At Sunday, October 30, 2005, Blogger Mary Morgan said...

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At Sunday, October 30, 2005, Blogger Jerry Simpson said...

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At Friday, September 01, 2006, Blogger ScienceDave said...

Comment spam. What a pain in the ass. I go back from time to time to see what people said about a particular post (and so few people read this that it is deeply gratifying to hear from anyone). These comments were particulary absurd comment spam, and I deleted them. But my new policy is not to delete anything. Let a thousand flowers bloom, even stinkweed like spam.

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