Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 27, 2005

Are Buckeyballs Toxic?

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:48 pm

In 1985, three chemists — Robert F. Curl, Jr. and Richard E. Smalley of Rice University and Harry W. Kroto of the University of Sussex — discovered a new form of pure carbon (in addition to graphite and diamond), which consists of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a sphere-like “cage.” The cage has the shape of a geodesic dome (although the dome is only a half-sphere), so they named the molecule after Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome. So the C60 molecule is called “buckminsterfullerene.” But that’s a mouthful, and C60 also looks like a soccer ball, so they molecules are sometimes affectionately called “buckyballs.” They eventually discovered other ball-like configurations, such as C70 and C20; the general class of cage-like carbon molecules is now called “fullerenes.” (Click here for more information on C60 and other fullerenes.) For their discover, Curl, Smalley, and Kroto got the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996

For good theoretical reasons, it has long been assumed that fullerenes are insoluble in water, and this inert in a wide variety of environments. Some have suggested using fullerenes to “carry” smaller molecules inside the “cage” for medical purposes — that is, to deliever drugs to specific parts of the body. However, according to this article, it turns out that C60 can form “clusters” in water, and can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria. So, it could turn out to be toxic — or to be a useful antibiotic.

Stay tuned!

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