In this building in early September 1985, a team of scientists discovered a previously unknown pure carbon molecule, C60, which they dubbed buckminsterfullerene. The name was chosen because the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller provided a clue that the molecule’s atoms might be arranged in the form of a hollow cage. The structure, a truncated icosahedron with 32 faces, 12 pentagonal and 20 hexagonal, has the shape of a soccer ball. Nicknamed buckyballs, this first known stable molecular form of carbon not only opened up a new field of organic chemistry but also, through the development of carbon nanotubes, a new field of materials science. In 1996, Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the fullerenes.
Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Rice University, 6100 Main Street, Space Science Building, TX 77005, Houston, TX, United States