A buckyegg breaks pentagon rules

A buckyegg breaks pentagon rules

Summary: Chemists from Virginia and California have cooked a soup of fullerenes which produced an improbable buckyegg. The egg-shaped structure of their buckyballs, which came as a complete surprise for the researchers, both violates some chemistry laws and the FIFA soccer laws which were used until the last World Cup. Read more...

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Chemists from Virginia and California have cooked a soup of fullerenes which produced an improbable buckyegg. The egg-shaped structure of their 'buckyballs' was a complete surprise for the researchers. In fact, they wanted to trap some atoms of terbium in a buckyball "to make compounds that could be both medically useful and well-tolerated in the body." And they obtained a buckyegg which both violates some chemistry laws and the FIFA soccer laws which were used until the last World Cup. But read more...

Here is an introduction to fullerenes given by UC Davis News.

Fullerenes, sometimes called "buckyballs," are usually spherical molecules of carbon, named after the futurist R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome. The carbon atoms are arranged in pentagons and hexagons, so their structures can resemble a soccer ball. An important rule -- until now -- is that no two pentagons can touch, but are always surrounded by hexagons.

This rule is no longer valid for soccer balls, as you can see by reading a previous post about new shapes for soccer balls. But it still is valid for chemists.

When [Christine Beavers, a chemistry graduate student at UC Davis,] started to map out the structure, she found two pentagons next to each other, making the pointy end of the egg. Initially she thought that the results were a mistake, but she showed the data to Marilyn Olmstead, an expert on X-ray crystallography, and they decided that the results were real.

As you can see below, this buckyegg is not at all spherical. "The carbon cage has a distinct egg shape due to the presence of a single pair of fused pentagons at one apex of the molecule," according to a scientific paper mentioned below. Inside, it contains a molecule of triterbium nitride. (Credit: Christine Beavers, UC Davis)

An image of the buckyegg

These buckyeggs have been the result of a collaboration between scientists at Virginia Tech, led by Professor Harry Dorn, who made the mixture of fullerenes, and UC Davis researchers, led by Professors Alan Balch and Marilyn Olmstead.

For more information about this buckyegg, the research work has been published by the Journal of the American Chemical Society under the title "Tb3N@C84: An Improbable, Egg-Shaped Endohedral Fullerene that Violates the Isolated Pentagon Rule" (Volume 128, Issue, Pages 11352-11353, September 6, 2006). Here is a link to the abstract.

Besides their egg-shaped form, what will these buckyeggs useful for? The researchers are just saying they could have "a wide range of uses." In other words, they've discovered buckyeggs by luck, so they've published a scientific paper, but they don't have any idea about what to do with them. Drop me a note if you think I'm wrong.

Sources: UC Davis News, September 29, 2006; and various websites

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