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Nobel laureate Robert Correll, discoverer of bucky balls: "The nanotechnology revolution has only just begun"

On the 25th anniversary of the Bucky Ball, Prof. Robert Correll, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, who discovered the properties of nanoscale materials in general and the "Bucky Ball" in particular, described in a lecture he gave to students and faculty members at the Faculty of Chemistry at Bar-Ilan University 

Prof. Robert Korel, Bar Ilan, April 2010. Photo: Bar Ilan University
Prof. Robert Korel, Bar Ilan, April 2010. Photo: Bar Ilan University

Exactly 25 years ago today, it was discovered that carbon in its two pure versions can converge into the shape of a hollow sphere. With the beginning of research in the field of nanotechnology, the idea arose to use bucky balls for various applications. Among other things, also for transporting medicines.

Many scientists and engineers are putting tremendous effort into developing the field of carbon-based nanotechnology for applications such as light but strong composite materials, more powerful batteries for electric vehicles, and fuel cells. This is how Prof. Robert Correll, professor emeritus at Rice University, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was a co-discoverer of the Baki balls and found an easy way to produce carbon compounds used for nanotechnology applications, in a lecture he gave to students and faculty members at Bar-Ilan University on April 11, 2010.

Robert Correll and his fellow laureates, Harold W. Croteau and Richard E. Smalley, are the ones who discovered two unique configurations of carbon C60 and C70 in which the carbon atoms are fused together as spheres. Initially, they gave the spherical structure the name "Buckminster Fullern" due to its resemblance to the geodesic dome designed by the American architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and then they became known to the public as Bucky balls. These spheres are part of a series of molecular shapes built on the purity of the carbon element - the fullerenes are composed of connected rings of carbon atoms that close in the form of hollow cages.

"Many scientists and engineers invest tremendous effort in developing the field of carbon-based nanotechnology. Most of the effort is related to the development of composite materials, among other things, to the strengthening of aluminum-based materials. It is very likely that these materials will find applications in the construction of airplanes, although the aviation sector already uses a lot of carbon-based materials today.

It will also be possible to develop flexible materials that will function in areas with extreme environmental conditions - in particular high temperatures and high pressures such as oil production facilities.

Much effort is also invested in the development of new batteries. Batteries are a very important thing today. The idea of ​​the electric car requires batteries to hold a large electric charge, otherwise the driving range of an electric car will be very low.

The efforts in all these areas are related to the development of almost all parts of the battery so that they can maintain a very high voltage. Among other things, it will be necessary to develop better membranes that separate the aforementioned parts of the battery to transport ions such as lithium ions, and block other ions. There are scientists developing new electrodes for these batteries. Some of the developments are in the direction of carbon-based electrodes and others - for silicon-based electrodes.

A separate major effort is going in the direction of fuel cell based batteries. We are working on the development of methanol-based fuel cells. The main factor retarding the development is the electrode where oxygen from the air enters the solution. There is an ideal and perfect material for this process - platinum, but there is not enough platinum in the world to allow mass-scale production of fuel cell batteries. That's why people are working on ways to reduce the amount of platinum, or use other materials that completely eliminate it as a catalyst - including carbon-based materials.
For the Buckeye balls he discovered, he also assigns interesting properties such as the possibility of entrapping almost any atom in the periodic table, which in itself could have many applications.

The end of the silicon era

"Things like developing computers with these materials seem very far in the future to me today. The main problem in replacing silicon in computers today is the fact that computers can actually be printed today. Although it is a rather complicated printing process, it can be mass-produced in the end. The process cannot be replicated for any other material other than silicone. It will take a long time before it will be possible to build computers from other materials, carbon is one of the possible choices."

We are indeed approaching the physical limit of the use of silicon, and people are looking for ways to develop molecular electronics, as this field is called. It is very difficult to predict the future. I do not see the future in the field of electronics. It seems to me that in the first step it will be possible to produce memory components with the new means. I don't see how the complex circuits and the complicated logic can be built, and of course it is necessary to wire the system - which is a challenge in itself. But challenges exist to be met. There will be challenges that turn out to be easier than expected and there will be others that turn out to be more complicated than expected, but in the end I am convinced that they will be overcome.

The space elevator is still far away

An interesting application put forward by one of Prof. Correll's partners for the Nobel Prize, Prof. Richard Smalley (who died in 2005) is the use of the properties of carbon nanotubes based on fullerenes to build a cable that will hold an elevator that will go up to a space station that hovers in a fixed place above the earth like a communication satellite And get back down from it, thus enabling the lowering of the costs of sending people and cargo into space: "There are physical problems with how to ensure that such a satellite remains stable and that the cable does not fall, but there is also a problem - if the cable is built from ordinary materials, it will collapse under its own weight. The problem is that so far they have not been able to produce continuous fibers of this material larger than 4 centimeters. I have no idea when, if at all, this will be practical, but in theory it seems plausible. Indeed Smoli knew how to think big." Prof. Coral answered.

More on the subject on the science website

5 תגובות

  1. Precisely in Prof. Tana's group, they have made tremendous progress in improving the efficiency of the production process and are able to produce very nice quantities of synthetic fullerenes - very promising.

  2. I wish that thanks to the technological developments in the field of carbon nanotubes we will be able to build cheap, strong and light skyscrapers that will reach a height of tens or even hundreds of kilometers. Even failed students are allowed to dream 🙂

  3. One of Israel's greatest experts in the field is Prof. Rashef Tana from the Weizmann Institute. Prof. Tana suggests using pills
    Bucky and the like to reduce friction in mechanical bearings. This idea has the potential to have a tremendous impact on the automotive industry and Prof. Tana has already been approached by large automobile companies in an attempt to use his ideas. Replacing the lubricants will improve the operation of engines that will not undergo almost any mechanical wear.

    The problem, as is usually the case with ideas involving nanotechnology, is the transition from the production of quantities in the laboratory to the production of commercial ones (many beautiful ideas have fallen due to the inability to pass this stage). This problem is also described in the article in the context of the mass production of computers from non-silicon materials "The fact that today it is practically possible to print computers, although it is a rather complicated printing process, but in the end it can be carried out en masse. The process cannot be replicated for any other material other than silicone. It will take a long time before it will be possible to build computers from other materials, carbon is one of the possible choices."

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