C60 (or buckminsterfullerene to give it its full name) is maybe the most famous of the nanoparticles and its discovery and subsequent synthesis led to Harry Kroto, Rick Smalley and Robert Curl being awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996.
The discovery of C60 was somewhat serendipitous as the team were originally attempting to study unstable molecules floating around in interstellar space but instead happened upon something totally unexpected, namely a very stable entitity which, from mass experiments, they knew contained precisely 60 carbon atoms. The exact three-dimensional structure of this mythical species was the subject of great speculation but was eventually discovered thanks to the highly technical application of some jelly sweets, cocktail sticks and cut-out paper shapes. Further more scientific studies confirmed that the elegant structure consists of a sphere made out of 12 pentagons interlocking 20 hexagons to make a ball, much like a modern day football.
Buckminsterfullerene and other derivatives including C70 are collectively known as the "fullerenes" and are known for their strength and lightness. If fullerenes are fired at a steel plate at 25000 km/h then they just bounce off and if compressed to 70% of their original size then they become twice as hard as diamond. Their potential has not yet been fully realised but potential applications include carriers for drug molecules, superconductors, lubricants and catalysts.
Despite their lack of commercial applications compared to other nanotechnologies, Buckyballs have universal appeal as witnessed in September 2010 when Google celebrated the 25th anniversary of the discovery of C60 by changing one of the O's in its logo to a manipulatable version of a buckyball for the day, an honor usually reserved for popular cultural icons such as Big Ben, Lego and Pacman.
Fullerene-based research carried out at the university includes structural studies of fullerene complexes and modelling of monolayers of C60 on different surfaces. Relevant staff members are:
The links below contain some further reading on fullerenes: