Football-shaped carbon molecules, known as fullerenes, can be formed by a single sheet of carbon atoms crumpling up, reports a study published online this week in Nature Chemistry. Fullerenes have been studied for 25 years, but how the compounds form is not well understood.
The usual procedure for forming fullerenes is to break up graphite ― a layered carbon material ― using lasers or electric arcs. The mechanism by which fullerenes form from graphite was believed to involve single carbon atoms or small clusters breaking off of the graphite and then clumping together to make fullerenes.
Andrey Chuvilin, Andrei Khlobystov and colleagues' findings suggest that some fullerene compounds may form in one go on the graphite sheet surface. The scientists used an electron beam to excite the atoms in graphene ― a one-atom-thick, chicken-wire-like sheet of carbon. Parts of the sheet broke off and formed smaller flakes, which, as transmission electron microscopy images revealed, rearranged into spherical cages of fullerene.