Discover more about carbon 60, what c60 is, and all of the amazing properties and uses of carbon 60.
What is Carbon 60 / C60?
Carbon 60 is a tiny molecule composed of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a sphere and is also known as buckyballs or C60.
Buckyballs are members of the fullerene family of carbon structures, which also include spheres, tubes, ellipsoids and various other shapes.
Fullerenes can range from 20 carbon atoms up to as many as 100 carbon atoms and are of great interest to researchers for both their chemical properties and possible applications in industry and technology.
What does C60 mean?
C60 is short for Carbon 60, a cluster of sixty carbon atoms in the shape of a ball, also known as buckminsterfullerene or a buckyball.
The carbon atoms in C60 fullerene are linked to three adjacent carbon atoms by strong covalent bonds and form a spherical pattern of 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons, also known as a truncated icosahedron. The C60 molecule is around 0.7 to 1 nanometres in diameter.
C60 was the first fullerene molecule to be discovered, and its spherical shape makes it ideal for use in a wide range of chemical and industrial processes.
Is C60 a compound or an element?
Because C60 is composed of 60 carbon atoms and no other types of atoms, it is actually an element.
However, because it is a structure that contains 60 atoms of carbon held together by covalent bonds, it may be called a compound molecule by some, but this is not technically correct in chemistry terms.
To be considered a compound, a molecule needs to contain more than one type of atom or element.
The correct term for this kind of structure is actually an allotrope, which basically means that it is one form of a particular element that has multiple forms.
So C60 is an element and not a compound.
Who discovered Carbon 60?
The existence of the Carbon 60 ball-like structure was predicted as early as 1965 and was described in 1980 as a “bucky onion” by Sumio Iijima, a Japanese physicist known as the inventor of carbon nanotubes.
Carbon 60 fullerene was first discovered and manufactured in 1985 by four scientists, James Heath, Richard Smalley, Sean O’Brien and Robert Curl.
Carbon 60 was the first fullerene molecule to be discovered and was created while using a laser to vaporise carbon, in an attempt to recreate the infrared emissions from giant red carbon stars.
The carbon clusters they created during this process ranged in size from 20 carbon molecules and larger, but Carbon 60 and Carbon 70 were found to be the most common, with C60 appearing more than three times as often as any other carbon cluster.
The researchers also discovered that they could increase the concentration of Carbon 60 molecules by allowing the plasma to react for longer, creating up to 40-times as much Carbon 60 compared to the other carbon structures.
The discovery of Carbon 60 led to Kroto, Curl and Smalley being awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Why is C60 called a buckyball?
After conducting reactivity experiments on the C60 fullerene molecules, Kroto and his colleagues concluded that Carbon 60 formed a cage-like spherical structure, in the form of a regular truncated icosahedron, or something like a hollow soccer ball.
Due to their geometry, these structures are unusually strong for their weight, being composed of interconnected hexagons and pentagons.
To the researchers, their newly discovered Carbon 60 molecule reminded them of these futuristic geodesic domes popularised in the 1930s by Buckminster Fuller, an American architect and inventor.
So they named the Carbon 60 molecule “buckminsterfullerene”, which these days is usually shortened to “fullerene” or “buckyball”. Other names like “soccerene” and “ballene” were considered, but it was the buckyball name that stuck.
And that’s why Carbon 60 is also known as buckyballs.
Where is Carbon 60 found?
Some forms of fullerene, including C60, C72, C76, C82 and C84 have been found to occur naturally in soot, lightning discharges and also in the minerals known as shungite, found in Russia.
Fullerene molecules have also been detected in the dust around stars, suggesting that buckyballs have existed for a very long time in nature.
The incredible versatility and resilience of Carbon 60 has led some to suggest that C60 may have played an important role in the creation of the universe as we know it, potentially serving as the starting point for planets and perhaps even life itself.
How is C60 made?
The carbon 60 manufactured by Kroto, Curl and Smalley was created using a laser beam to vaporise carbon, which was then passed through a stream of high-density helium gas.
The carbon was then cooled and ionised to create clusters of carbon clusters, including carbon 60 molecules. However, it is difficult to make useful amounts of C60 using this approach.
These days, most carbon 60 is manufactured in the laboratory, using an electric arc between two carbon electrodes to create a charcoal-like soot from which the carbon 60 fullerene molecules can be extracted.
Tweaking the soot-creating conditions also allows carbon nanotubes to be created instead of C60 buckyballs.
The soot created by this process is treated with organic solvents and passed through special extraction laboratory equipment to extract the Carbon 60, along with other fullerenes.
This is a difficult process, as C60 does not readily dissolve in many solvents.
The extracted Carbon 60 can be separated and purified further using chromatography, after which the solvents are fully evaporated to produce C60 powders that are as pure as 99.9% and higher.
What’s interesting about Carbon 60?
Carbon 60 fullerene and other buckyballs have several properties that make them very interesting to researchers and industry.
Very strong, stable molecules
They are exceptionally stable molecules, and are not easily dissolved in water or other solvents.
Their spherical shape can trap other atoms inside them, they can act as super conductors, and they have been shown to behave as both a wave and a particle according to quantum physics.
Buckyballs have also been shown to bounce, even when fired into stainless steel walls at more than 24,000 kilometres per hour.
C60 molecules also return to their original shape when squeezed, and they can also spin at incredibly high speeds, even at room temperature.
They can also withstand high temperatures and pressures, and the carbon 60 molecules can react with other atoms while preserving their spherical shape.
C60 has also been shown to be resistant to both chemical corrosion and radioactivity. C60 fullerene molecules are very slightly soluble in organic solvents such as toluene, but are insoluble in water.
Good electron acceptors
Carbon 60 molecules are very good electron acceptors, meaning that they readily accept free electrons from other substances.
This means that Carbon 60 can be oxidised, happily taking on extra electrons, such as those released during oxidative stress, although they will also readily release electrons under the right conditions. They react readily when mixed with free radicals to form reversible “radical” C60 molecules.
Conductors and superconductors
The C60 form of carbon also shows promise for use as both an electrical conductor and a superconductor, by replacing some carbon atoms with other elements, including both sodium and potassium.
The potassium-buckyballs showing superconducting properties at -255°C, which the highest superconducting temperature of any known organic substance.
Colour and light absorption
Individual molecules of carbon 60 fullerene transmit either blue or red light, which creates a purple colour for pure preparations of Carbon 60. Once dried the colour changes to brown, due to a reduction in blue-light transmission and an increase in green-light transmission through the crystal structure.
Solid carbon 60 is soft, like the graphite in lead pencils, but turns into a superhard form of diamond under extreme pressure. It also absorbs light at a significantly higher rate when it is subjected to higher-intensity light.
And research in 2012 on the toxicity of Carbon 60 showed that not only was it not toxic at all to rats, but that it almost doubled their lifespan, possibly as a result of its high levels of antioxidant activity, with the ability to “mop up” free radicals hundreds of times better than standard anti-oxidants.
What is Carbon 60 used for?
The incredible properties and behaviours of Carbon 60 mean that it is being described by some as the “swiss army knife” of organic chemistry, with the potential to use it as the starting point for thousands of useful substances.
Solar energy harvesting
The way that carbon 60 absorbs light and attracts electrons makes it an excellent substance to use in solar cells, for harvesting energy from the sun.
Lubrication and electrical circuits
Buckyballs have also been used for lubrication, as tiny molecular “ball bearings”, and have also been used to create microscopic wires, transistors and other components of electrical circuits.
The shape and covalent chemical bonds in Carbon 60 make it very strong, and the molecules bond readily with other substances, making it ideal for adding to composite materials such as plastics, to provide additional strength and other properties.
There’s also talk of using these tiny spherical molecules to create lightweight batteries, new composite plastics and powerful rocket fuels, due to their incredible strength and resilience, and certain manufacturers have created non-carbon fullerene structures for use in bulletproof vests.
Storage and stabilisation
Other research suggests that fullerene buckyballs might be used to store hydrogen, as a fuel source for hydrogen-powered cars, and they could also be used to create powerful batteries by combining lithium and fluorine atoms inside the C60 fullerene structure, to protect them from oxygen damage.
Carbon 60 buckyballs might also be able to used to reduce bacterial growth in water systems.
Researchers have experimented with using C60 molecules to filter super-fine substances out of solutions, to absorb chemicals as microscopic sponges and to carry drugs and other molecules through living organisms.
In the biomedical industry, researchers are exploring whether buckyballs can:
- reduce inflammation from allergic reactions and oxidative stress
- fight the degeneration that occurs during multiple sclerosis
- be used as chemical tracers by trapping elements such as helium inside them
- bind to the proteins in HIV to prevent its spread
- carry radioactive atoms to the sites of cancerous tumours or for drug administration
- reduce aging and extend the lifespan of mammals, including humans
Research into C60
Read more about some of the fascinating carbon 60 research that’s been done, including its effects on aging, muscle recovery, allergic reactions, leukemia cell death, and memory and learning.
Read more about Carbon 60
To learn even more about Carbon 60, read the following articles that were used as references for the above content.