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Fullerenes are molecules composed entirely of carbon, taking the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid, tube or ring. Fullerenes are similar in structure to graphite, which is composed of a sheet of linked hexagonal rings, but they contain pentagonal (or sometimes heptagonal) rings that prevent the sheet from being planar. They are sometimes called buckyballs or buckytubes, depending on the shape. Cylindrical fullerenes are often called nanotubes. The smallest fullerene in which no two pentagons share an edge (which is destabilizing - see pentalene[?]) is C60, and as such it is also the most common. It is called Buckminsterfullerene in honor of Buckminster Fuller, a noted architect who created the geodesic dome. The structure of C60 resembles a soccer ball with a carbon atom at the corners of each hexagon and a bond along each edge.

Until the late twentieth century, graphite and diamond were the only known allotropes of carbon. Then, in molecular beam experiments, discrete peaks were observed corresponding to molecules with the exact mass of 60, 70, or greater numbers of carbon atoms. Harold Kroto, Robert Curl and Richard Smalley, from Rice University, were awarded the Nobel Prize for their roles in the discovery of this class of compounds. Buckyball and other fullerenes and fullerene compounds were later noticed occurring outside of a laboratory environment (e.g. in normal candle soot). As of the early twenty-first century, the chemical and physical properties of fullerenes are still under heavy study, in both pure and applied research labs. In April 2003, fullerenes were under study for potential medicinal use--binding specific antibiotics to the structure to target resistant bacteria, prevent bioterrorism, and even target certain cancer cells such as melanoma.

Fullerenes are not very reactive due to the stability of the graphite-like bonds, and are also fairly insoluble in many solvents. Researchers have been able to increase the reactivity by attaching active groups to the surfaces of fullerenes.

Other atoms can be trapped inside fullerenes, and indeed recent evidence for a meteor impact at the end of the Permian period was found by analyzing noble gases so preserved.

Superconductivity is one of the more recently explored properties.

A common method used to produce fullerenes is to send a large current between two nearby graphite electrodes in an inert atmosphere. The resulting carbon plasma arc between the electrodes cools into sooty residue from which many fullerenes can be isolated.

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