Tag Archives: Sir Harold Kroto

Where do buckyballs come from?

I’ve always wondered where buckyballs come from (as have scientists for the last 25 years) and now there’s an answer of sorts  (from the July 31, 2012 Florida State University news release Note: I have removed some links),

“We started with a paste of pre-existing fullerene molecules mixed with carbon and helium, shot it with a laser, and instead of destroying the fullerenes we were surprised to find they’d actually grown,” they wrote. The fullerenes were able to absorb and incorporate carbon from the surrounding gas.

By using fullenes  that contained heavy metal atoms in their centers, the scientists showed that the carbon cages remained closed throughout the process.

“If the cages grew by splitting open, we would have lost the metal atoms, but they always stayed locked inside,” Dunk [Paul Dunk, a doctoral student in chemistry and biochemistry at Florida State and lead author of the study published in Nature Communications] noted.

The researchers worked with a team of MagLab chemists using the lab’s 9.4-tesla Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer to analyze the dozens of molecular species produced when they shot the fullerene paste with the laser. The instrument works by separating molecules according to their masses, allowing the researchers to identify the types and numbers of atoms in each molecule. The process is used for applications as diverse as identifying oil spills, biomarkers and protein structures.

Dexter Johnson in his Aug. 6, 2012 posting on the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) provides some context and commentary (Note: I have removed a link),

When Richard Smalley, Robert Curl, James Heath, Sean O’Brien, and Harold Kroto prepared the first buckminsterfullerene (C60) (or buckyball), they kicked off the next 25 years of nanomaterial science.

Here’s an artist’s illustration of  what these scientists have achieved, fullerene cage growth,

An artist’s representation of fullerene cage growth via carbon absorption from surrounding hot gases. Some of the cages contain lanthanum metal atoms. (Image courtesy National Science Foundation) [downloaded from Florida State University website]

 As I noted earlier I’m not alone in my fascination (from the news release),

Many people know the buckyball, also known by scientists as buckminsterfullerene, carbon 60 or C60, from the covers of their school chemistry textbooks. Indeed, the molecule represents the iconic image of “chemistry.” But how these often highly symmetrical, beautiful molecules with  fascinating properties form in the first place has been a mystery for a quarter-century. Despite worldwide investigation since the 1985 discovery of C60, buckminsterfullerene and other, non-spherical C60 molecules — known collectively as fullerenes — have kept their secrets. How? They’re born under highly energetic conditions and grow ultra-fast, making them difficult to analyze.

“The difficulty with fullerene formation is that the process is literally over in a flash — it’s next to impossible to see how the magic trick of their growth was performed,” said Paul Dunk, a doctoral student in chemistry and biochemistry at Florida State and lead author of the work.

There’s more than just idle curiosity at work (from the news release),

The buckyball research results will be important for understanding fullerene formation in extraterrestrial environments. Recent reports by NASA showed that crystals of C60 are in orbit around distant suns. This suggests that fullerenes may be more common in the universe than previously thought.

“The results of our study will surely be extremely valuable in deciphering fullerene formation in extraterrestrial environments,” said Florida State’s Harry Kroto, a Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of C60 and co-author of the current study.

The results also provide fundamental insight into self-assembly of other technologically important carbon nanomaterials such as nanotubes and the new wunderkind of the carbon family, graphene.

H/T to Nanowerk’s July 31, 2012 news item titled, Decades-old mystery how buckyballs form has been solved. In addition to Florida State University, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (or MagLab), the CNRS  (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)Institute of Materials in France and Nagoya University in Japan were also involved in the research.

Buckypaper and nanocrystalline cellulose; two different paths to the same ends?

Buckypaper interests me largely because of its name (along with Buckyballs and Buckytubes [usually called carbon nanotubes]). I believe the names are derived from Buckminsterfullerenes a form of carbon engineered (it can be found in nature) in the labs at Rice University. From the Wikipedia essay on Buckminsterfullerenes,

Buckminsterfullerene is a spherical fullerene molecule with the formula C60. It was first prepared in 1985 by Harold Kroto, James Heath, Sean O’Brien, Robert Curl and Richard Smalley at Rice University.  Kroto, Curl, and Smalley were awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their roles in the discovery of buckminsterfullerene and the related class of molecules, the fullerenes. The name is an homage to Richard Buckminster Fuller, whose geodesic domes it resembles. Buckminsterfullerene was the first fullerene molecule discovered and it is also the most common in terms of natural occurrence, as it can be found in small quantities in soot.

Buckypaper is a main focus at the High Performance Materials Institute at the Florida State University, which has just *released a promotional video (according to the Oct. 3, 2011 news item on Nanowerk). Here’s the video,

It reminds me a little of the video for Nokia’s Morph concept, which was released a few years back. I haven’t heard any substantive news about that project although there are the occasional updates. For example, the Morph was originally described it as a phone and then they changed it to the Morph concept. I’d love to see a prototype one of these days. (There’s more about the Morph and its incarnations in my Sept. 29, 2010 posting.)

The descriptions for applications using Buckypaper reminded me of nanocrystalline cellulose as I’ve seen some of the same claims made for that substance. I’m hoping to hear about the new plant in Windsor, Québec which is supposed to be opening this fall. From the ArboraNano new projects page,

Currently, Canada has an 18- to 24-month global lead in the commercial production of NCC as a 1 ton/day demonstration plant located in Windsor, Quebec enters the final phases of construction. Startup is planned for Fall 2011.

It’s good to see all these different research efforts and to reflect on the innovation being demonstrated.

* Nov. 27, 2013: changed ‘release’ to ‘released’.

Nanoscience public relations at Rice University

There’s an opportunity to interact with Nobel prize winner in Chemistry Sir Harry Kroto via the Nobel Prize’s YouTube channel and its Facebook page. From the news item on Nanowerk,

Harry Kroto, awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1996, is the latest to take part in the “Ask a Nobel Laureate” series on YouTube and Facebook. “Ask a Nobel Laureate” gives online viewers worldwide the unique opportunity to put their questions directly to a Nobel Laureate and see the responses.

Harry Kroto received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley for the discovery of C60, a remarkable molecule composed of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a soccer-ball-like pattern. The configuration reminded Kroto of the futuristic geodesic domes designed by Richard Buckminster Fuller, and consequently C60 was given the name “buckminsterfullerine”, otherwise known by its more popular name of “buckyballs”.

You have until Sept. 4, 2010 to submit your questions via the Nobel Prize YouTube channel (where you will find a 3 minute video introduction to Sir Harry Kroto) or the Nobel Prize FaceBook page.

Video or text questions will be accepted (though video questions are preferred), and you can visit the channels to see questions that have already been posted and vote for your favourite ones. The deadline for submitting questions is 4 September 2010. Harry Kroto will then answer a selection of questions, and his answers will be broadcast on [the Nobel Prize] YouTube channel.

You can find out more about Sir Harry Kroto’s Nobel Prize here.

This item caught my attention since I’ve been noticing an increase in the number of news items about Rice University and/or the folks associated with the discovery of buckyballs. For example, Nanowerk has another news item about Rice University’s new state-of-the-art nanotechnology overview course (Continuing Studies) being launched in concert with Rice’s Year of the Nano 25th anniversary celebration of the discovery of the buckyball. From the news item,

In conjunction with Rice’s Year of Nano celebration of the 25th anniversary of the buckminsterfullerene molecule discovery – the buckyball – the Glasscock School is offering a course to the public featuring lectures by Rice’s top nano scientists. The course will cover applications of nanotechnology and the underlying scientific principles that relate to medicine, electronics, materials and energy. Participants will explore the environmental, health and safety aspects of nanotechnology, how Rice is leading the way in understanding and assessing the risks and how applications are brought to market and create jobs.

First among the lecturers is one of the buckyball’s discoverers, Robert Curl, Rice’s University Professor Emeritus and Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences, who shared the Nobel Prize with the late Richard Smalley of Rice and Harold Kroto, then of the University of Sussex and now at Florida State University. [emphasis mine]

Curl will discuss the team’s work and subsequent impact of the buckyball, a 60-atom carbon molecule shaped like a soccer ball and one of the hardest substances in the universe. Wade Adams, director of Rice University’s Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, co-sponsor of the course, will join Curl for the presentation.

So the “Ask a Nobel Laureate” series focus on Sir Harry Kroto comes at an interesting time, non?

Really good public relations (pr) practice can be quite subtle and difficult if not impossible to detect unless you are in ‘the know’. So this Nobel YouTube/FaceBook interaction with Sir Harry K. may be happy coincidence or part of a pr campaign.

Stuart Ewen wrote a book titled, PR! A Social History of Spin, where he discusses a lengthy interview he had with Edward Bernays one of the pioneers in US public relations. Before I tell the story it’s best to know a little more about Bernays. From PR Watch.org (book review by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton),

Today, few people outside the public relations profession recognize the name of Edward L. Bernays. As the year 2000 approaches, however, his name deserves to figure on historians’ lists of the most influential figures of the 20th century.

It is impossible to fundamentally grasp the social, political, economic and cultural developments of the past 100 years without some understanding of Bernays and his professional heirs in the public relations industry. PR is a 20th century phenomenon, and Bernays–widely eulogized as the “father of public relations” at the time of his death in 1995–played a major role in defining the industry’s philosophy and methods.

Eddie Bernays himself desperately craved fame and a place in history. During his lifetime he worked and schemed to be remembered as the founder of his profession and sometimes drew ridicule from his industry colleagues for his incessant self-promotions. These schemes notwithstanding, Bernays richly deserves the title that Boston Globe reporter Larry Tye has given him in his engagingly written new book, The Father of Spin.

Bernays’ life was amazing in many ways. He had a role in many of the seminal intellectual and commercial events of this century. “The techniques he developed fast became staples of political campaigns and of image-making in general,” Tye notes. “That is why it is essential to understand Edward L. Bernays if we are to understand what Hill and Knowlton did in Iraq–not to mention how Richard Nixon was able to dig his way out of his post-Watergate depths and remake himself into an elder statesman worthy of a lavish state funeral, how Richard Morris repositioned President Bill Clinton as an ideological centrist in order to get him reelected, and how most other modern-day miracles of public relations are conceived and carried out.”

Ewen’s book published in 1996 likely features one of Bernays’ last interviews and fascinating insight into how pr can work. Partway through the interview Ewen asks Bernays for a practical example of how he practices pr and Bernays uses Ewen’s forthcoming book as the example. From the website where Dr. Ewen sells his book and offers chapter 1 as a reading sample,

If you said to me, ‘I would like more readers of this book’ [tapping the cover] …I would immediately get in touch with the largest American consumer association. And I would say to the head of the consumers association, ‘There are undoubtedly…I can’t tell you the exact percentage, but X percentage of your members who are very definitely interested in the images that come from a finance capitalist society, and who I think would enjoy hearing about that. Why don’t you devote one of your twelve meetings a year to consumer images, the name of a new book, and I think it may be possible for me to get the author to talk to the New York meeting and you then make an arrangement with American Tel and Tel and have a video tape made of him beforehand and in thirty of the largest cities of the United States that have the American Consumer League, you listen to an in-depth concept of consumers and images….’

Then Bernays turned to me and, with an abracadabra tone in his voice, he summarized the imaginable result of his hypothetical phone-call to the head of the country’s largest consumer association:

Every one of the consumer groups has contacts with the local paper, and in some cases the AP may pick it up, or Reuters, and you become an international star!

Then, about three months after the interview-the above incident having faded from my immediate memory-I received a most surprising telephone call. It was from Steven Brobeck, president of the Consumer Federation of America, one of the nation’s largest and most influential consumer organizations. Mr. Brobeck wanted to know if I would be willing to serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming Consumer Congress in Washington, DC, a convention that would bring together more than a thousand members of consumer organizations from around the country. He wanted me to speak about American consumer culture and the ways that seductive commercial images are routinely employed to promote waste and disposability. C-Span, I was informed, would be taping my keynote, and would then cablecast it across the country.

I still do not know whether Bernays’ hand was behind this invitation, or whether the phone call was merely a result of sly coincidence. When I inquired as to the origin of the invitation, nowhere was there any clear-cut, or even circumstantial, evidence of Bernays’ intervention.

But then I recalled another point in our lengthy conversation, when Bernays sermonized on the invisibility with which public relations experts must, ideally, perform their handiwork. [emphasis mine]

Props to the folks at Rice if they are practicing some invisible pr.

I’ve written about Rice and their Year of the Nano before, May 13, 2010 and August 3, 2010.

Year of Nano at Rice University

I mentioned the Year of Nano 25th anniversary celebration of the buckminsterfullerene (also known as a C60 fullerene or bucky ball) at Rice University in a Feb. 8, 2010 posting (it’s towards the bottom) and wasn’t really expecting to hear more about it until the technical symposium in October 2010. Yesterday, the folks at Rice University sent out a news release that manages to herald both the Year of Nano and the 50th anniversary of the laser. From the news release (titled, From beams to bucky balls),

Twenty-five years after the laser beam came to be, a historic meeting took place at Rice University that led to the discovery of the buckminsterfullerene, the carbon 60 molecule for which two Rice scientists won the Nobel Prize.

Now that the buckyball is celebrating its own 25th anniversary, it’s worth noting that one wouldn’t have happened without the other.

During the Year of Nano, Rice will honor Nobel laureates Robert Curl and the late Richard Smalley, their research colleague and co-laureate, Sir Harold Kroto, then of the University of Sussex, and former graduate students James Heath and Sean O’Brien with a series of events culminating in an Oct. 11-13 symposium at Rice on nanotechnology’s past, present and future.

But Curl happily throws a share of the credit to another Rice professor, Frank Tittel, a laser pioneer whose work continues to break new ground in chemical sensing.

Fifty years ago this Sunday, on May 16, 1960, Hughes Research scientist Theodore Maiman fired off the first laser beam from a small ruby rod, a camera flashlamp and a power supply.

Not long after the news was reported in the New York Times, Tittel, now Rice’s J.S. Abercrombie Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, was asked by his new bosses at General Electric to recreate Maiman’s device. “That used brute force,” Tittel said of his first laser, later donated to the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. “Now we’re more sophisticated.”

Tittel joined Rice in 1967 and quickly built the first tunable laser in Texas, used in spectroscopy and sensing devices. He also formed collaborations with other professors, including Curl, who is now Rice’s University Professor Emeritus and Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences.

The laser attracted a lot of interest and was used to investigate a number of phenomena including Kroto’s chief interest in 1985, the “abundance of carbon molecules in interstellar clouds,”

…  The experiments in late 1985 showed an abundance of carbon 60, which set the scientists racing to figure out what such a molecule would look like. “We had this problem that this (carbon cluster) was a little strong, and it looked like there was something there,” Curl said, noting that the team pursued the interstellar question no further. “The discovery of the fullerenes drew all our attention.”

Smalley was the first to find the solution by assembling a paper model of hexagons and pentagons that turned out to be identical to a soccer ball. (In a webcast available here, Curl described how the team came up with the key to the solution over enchiladas at a Houston diner.)

The webcast with Curl is titled, How Astrophysical Interests Accidentally Led to Advances in Carbon Chemistry. I think what’s so fascinating is that Richard Smalley wasn’t that interested in Kroto’s question but it was that question that led to their great discovery. This story reminded me of a comment from Dr. J. Storrs Hall that I quoted in one of my recent posts (scroll down to find the passage), “As Dr. Hall aptly noted it’s not dispassionate calculations but ‘serendipity: the way science always works’.”