As Rice University celebrates its 100th birthday today, the university wraps up its centennial video series with one of the most important events in the school’s history: the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of carbon 60, or buckyballs.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 to Rice professors Robert Curl and Richard Smalley and British scientist Harold Kroto for the 1985 discovery of carbon 60, which Smalley named buckminsterfullerenes. Carbon 60 is the third molecular form of carbon behind diamonds and graphite. Each spherical carbon 60 molecule contains 60 atoms of carbon arranged in hexagons and pentagons that resemble both a soccer ball and the geodesic dome created by famed architect Buckminster Fuller.
Buckminsterfullerenes are extraordinarily stable and impervious to radiation and chemical destruction. The buckyball discovery helped launch the field of nanotechnology, and the molecules have been used to create new superstrong yet light materials and new drug-delivery systems.
Working with Centennial Historian Melissa Kean, video producer Brandon Martin sat down with Curl to talk about winning the Nobel Prize. Smalley passed away from cancer in the fall of 2005. For more information on Rice’s history, visit Kean’s blog at www.ricehistorycorner.com.
To help celebrate the university’s centennial, Rice University began exploring the school’s unique history in February with weekly videos. To see other stories in the 28-part centennial video series, go to www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60D6D71E71B66B3D&feature=plcp.