June 11, 2018
What molecule am I?

The architect Buckminster Fuller popularized geodesic domes in the late 1940s. The domes are structures that sustain their own weight and, despite their curved appearance, consist of planar equilateral triangles.

When chemists Harold W. Kroto at the University of Sussex (Falmer, UK); Robert F. Curl, Jr., and Richard E. Smalley at Rice University (Houston); and co-workers discovered the spherical C60 molecule in 1985, it was natural to name it buckminsterfullerene or, colloquially, “buckyballs”. Although Fuller’s domes consist only of triangles, C60 contains regular pentagons and hexagons.

The same researchers, who went on to win the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, synthesized other nonspherical fullerenes such as C70. Fullerenes also exist in nature, primarily in soot; but they have also been observed in outer space.

Buckminsterfullerene, like other carbon allotropes, is black. But, unlike other carbons, it is soluble in nonoxygenated organic solvents such as toluene and carbon disulfide. The solutions are purple, magenta, or green, depending on the concentration and solvent–solute interactions.

Many C60 derivatives have been prepared, some with functional groups that can participate in subsequent reactions or catalysis. Fullerenes also have applications in nanotechnology.

Buckminsterfullerene, of course, is noteworthy for its similarity to a soccer ball. So keep it in mind when you watch this year’s men’s FIFA World Cup competition, which begins on June 14.

Buckminsterfullerene fast facts

CAS Reg. No. 99685-96-8
Molar mass 720.64 g/mol
Empirical formula C60
Appearance Shiny black needle-like crystals
Melting point ≈600 ºC (subl.)
Water solubility Insoluble

Buckminsterfullerene hazard information

GHS classification*: serious eye irritation, category 2A
H319—Causes serious eye irritation Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: specific target organ toxicity, single exposure; respiratory tract irritation, category 3
H335—May cause respiratory irritation Chemical Safety Warning

*Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Explanation of pictograms.

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