Buckyballs continue to tantalize scientists. The sphere-shaped molecules of carbon, so named because their structure resembles Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes, already have been shown to act as superconductors, catalysts, and templates for making diamond films. Now, there's a new set of potential uses: purifying and storing gases.
It all began when chemist Roger A. Assink and colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories were analyzing a sample of buckyballs. Unexpectedly, they found the material contained gases such as nitrogen. Analysis revealed that small gas molecules slip in and out of the spaces between buckyballs.
The discovery suggests two potential uses: Clumps of buckyballs could store gases such as oxygen. And a thin layer of buckyballs could remove nitrogen and other contaminants from natural gas, a key purification process that normally takes several steps. Nitrogen and oxygen would pass through the layer, leaving behind the larger molecules of pure methane, which are too big to slip into gaps. The Sandia team is now working to make such buckyball filters.
EDITED BY FLEUR TEMPLETON