Today in Science History – June 6

Buckyball or Buckminsterfullerene
A buckminsterfullerene C60 molecule, also known as a buckyball. Credit: Todd Helmenstine

June 6 is Richard Smalley’s birthday. Richard Smalley is one of the three men who share the 1966 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of carbon fullerenes.

Fullerenes are a class of molecules consisting entirely of carbon atoms that form three dimensional shapes, such as spheres, tubes, and ellipsoids. Along with Smalley, Harold Kroto and Robert Curl discovered the existence of the carbon-60 allotrope known as buckminsterfullerene. Buckminsterfullerenes, or “buckyballs”  are arranged in a spherical shape and joined much like the leather pattern in a soccer ball. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, an architect known for designing geodesic dome structures of the same shape.

Richard Smalley is considered one of the pioneers of the young field of nanotechnology. Fullerenes are opening several new directions of research in materials science and electronics.