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One of the most curious structures in nanotechnology is the buckyball. It is officially known as the buckminsterfullerene, a name derived from Richard Buckminster Fuller. He was a famous architect who developed the first architectural geodesic dome.
A buckyball is actually an entire class of spheres made entirely from carbon. The carbon nanotube is actually related to the buckyball since it is also composed entirely out of carbon. The structure of a buckyball is slightly different than other carbon-based nanostructures. Again, its basic planar treatment is like a sheet of graphite. The sheet has many linked hexagonal rings interspersed with some pentagonal rings that allow for the spherical shape. The smallest possible buckyball is the famous C60 molecule that is at the center of many current investigations in nanotechnology.
Researchers have known about buckyballs and their related fullerenes since 1960's. In fact, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to its discoverers in 1966. Over the last 40 years, scientists have established reliable synthesis routes to create large amounts of buckyball powder. Scientific research is still ongoing. So far, we've been able to determine that buckyballs are not very reactive and thus highly stable. They're also insoluble in most solvents. For these two reasons, buckyballs have become the center of attention in the bio-nanotechnology research front.
That's because buckyballs are hollow in the middle, and can be used to trap other atoms or molecules. In this mode, buckyballs could be a potentially hardy delivery method for drugs inside the body.
Electrically, buckyballs have found use in many areas where superconductivity or regular conductivity was required, normally in conjunction with carbon nanotubes.
There are many other uses for these small molecules, but most are considered highly experimental. It will be a long time before buckyballs find their way into consumer use.
For one thing, a recent study highlighted potential dangers of buckyballs dissolved in water. The researchers found that even at very low concentrations, water with buckyballs in them could cause serious damage to fish. Whether or not this will have an impact on current research on drug delivery with buckyballs remains to be seen.