Buckyball Inspiration

Buckyballs or C60 or Buckminsterfullerene has become an very hot topic in the chemistry and material science worlds in the past 20 years or so.  Buckballs are being used in physics, Supramolecular chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and engineering.  And for all of this we do not need to thank the big ten research schools, but a regular school and the good science and scientists that were working there when it happened.  The Buckyball discovery shows everyone that good science can happen anywhere.


What amazes me most about the Buckyball story is not the accidental nature of its discovery, of which Practicing Science covered brilliantly.  No, it was the fact that one of the major contributors to the project was working at a small UK university at the time.  This is often contrary to the nature of most big discoveries in chemistry and physics, and in most sciences.  More often than not the big time discoveries come out of the MIT’s, Cal Tech’s, Berkeley’s and so on.  But the story of the discovery of the Buckyball defies that trend, and shows that small Universities, even those without graduate programs.


While a fair amount of the research was carried out in Texas at Rice University, the idea to run the original experiment originated from Harry Kroto PhD and the University of Sussex.  While the University of Sussex is by no means a bad school, it does not have the same reputation as Cambridge or Cal Tech.  On one side of the Atlantic was a group in Texas with a new laser and the other side was an English professor looking to recreate the clouds of carbon chains found in deep space.  When Kroto contacted Smalley and asked him to use the hos laser to attempt to create a similar organic cloud as found in space from laser ablating some graphite the Buckyball was born.  Though at first the results seemed to be a mistake.

On a side note, Sir Harry Kroto is currently putting in a lot of effort with the Vega Science Trust.  One of the main goals of the Vega is to produce high quality science lectures and video presentations to better portray the world of science to the masses.  When I was a graduate student at the same school as Harry he was constantly asking students to record talks for him.  I am sorry to say I was unable to help out before I moved on to another school.  Though if I had the chance again I would certainly participate in the great project.


The accidental discovery aside, the fact that such a discovery originated from a lesser known University is what I find inspiring.  in academia it seems to be so often about a scientists pedigree and whether or not they worked at one of the big 10 research schools.  Here is a shining example of a discovery that originated from a regular school and has still had a profound impact on the scientific community.


About thepickledhedgehog

I am a big fan of chemistry, well science in general really. I am currently gearing to go after that elusive PhD in Chemistry. For now though I write about all things geeky or science that I find interesting, or think the world should know. All the while secretly hoping to find a blue police box when I round a corner one day.
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2 Responses to Buckyball Inspiration

  1. Nice post and thanks for mentioning me! The VEGA project sounds interesting. I’ll have to keep up with that one.

    • It is very interesting, I think that VEGA has done a lot to expand access for those who can not otherwise easily get involved in science, as well as providing a large library for interested people to look through.

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