Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I like my soccer NANO-SIZED!!

Some people prefer American soccer over Australian, but I prefer NANO-SIZED!

Buckyballs (nano-sized soccer-ball-like carbon cages) have been making headlines this week as researchers from Rice University and Sandia National Laboratory successfully videotaped the creation of a buckyball. Watch it here:

Nature produces nano-sized soccer balls which scientists have dubbed buckyballs. Buckyballs (more generally called fullerenes) are made up of 60 carbon atoms all put together just like American soccer balls: twelve pentagons (the black patches) and twenty hexagons (the white patches) linked together into a cage formation. I won’t go into it all, but go to Nova’s webpage for a very entertaining and precise history and description of the buckyball, with no science jargon: http://www.science.org.au/nova/024/024key.htm

But hold your horses, sports fans. The video doesn’t make any sense until you read the paper published about it. Luck for you, I’ve done the dirty work. Here’s my play-by-play (use this as a guide to the video):

The two boulder-shaped things are giant fullerenes, or large versions of buckyballs. While buckyballs consist of 60 carbon atoms, these GF’s can be made up of over a thousand.

The lower boulder starts with 1300 atoms of carbon, and the higher one starts with 1100.

The higher one doesn’t disappear, it just moves off screen. It seems that the giant buckyballs don’t actually roll, they slide.

You are watching the GF’s lose carbon atoms and shrink in size.

The actual buckyball, size C60, doesn’t appear until near the end of the video.

Watch it twice and note the last frame where you can really see a circle with room inside it: right after that, you’re looking at a buckyball. It is about one billionth of a meter across!

The process you’re watching is being called “shrink-wrapping,” because those GF’s, which are easier to create, are being shrunk down to the size of a buckyball. They’re heated up and begin to shrink via evaporation of carbon atoms. The actual buckyball appears at about 2000o C. The paper discusses in detail how they think the balls manage to shrink, but more importantly they think they’ll soon be able to stop the shrinkage whenever they want, creating fullerenes of specific sizes.

The people who discovered the buckyballs won the Nobel Prize in 1996. It’s amazing what these Buckyballs might be able to do. They could swim safely through your veins or clean up toxic waste! Nanotubes of similar structure might be able to both conduct and insulate current, based on small changes in size.

View the papers abstract from APS: http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v99/e175503

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