Introduction to Nanotechnology

Scientists just recently discovered buckyballs in a new series of carbon atoms by accident. While the scientists were looking for something else, they noticed something they had never seen before.

They saw a soccer ball shaped molecule made up of 60 carbon atoms. Carbon is the second most common element found on earth. In fact, our own bodies are made up of 18% carbon. Atoms, as you may know, are the smallest particles that we know exist on earth.

Atoms are so small, you need a microscope this big to see them:

Even though everyone knows a lot about carbon and atoms, no one had ever seen a carbon atom in this shape before.

Buckminster Fuller
The C60 molecule, C for carbon, and 60 for the number of atoms in it, looked just like the geodesic dome that the architect, Buckminster Fuller invented and made famous almost forty years earlier at the 1965 New York World's Fair, so the scientists called it a buckyball or fullerene.

Now Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome at the World's Fair was huge, and some people believe it was the brainchild of Disney World's Epcot Center, but the C60 buckyball is amazingly small. So small, in fact, that you can barely imagine it, but let's give it a try.

Geodesic Dome at the World's Fair

Close your eyes and picture the earth. Now, picture you holding a soccer ball on the earth. Notice how small your ball is to the earth. Now picture the soccer ball as the earth. The C60 buckyball is as small as your soccer ball is to the earth. Pretty hard to imagine, huh?

The best part is, the buckyball is the most versatile nanomaterial on earth. What does that mean exactly? Well, the word versatile means changeable for many uses, and the word nano means dwarf. If you add nano to the word "science" to make the word nanoscience, you are referring to scientific knowledge based on the smallest scale now known to man. And if you add nano to the word technology, which means applying scientific knowledge to make things, you get nanotechnology, or the making of things on an incredibly small scale.

Because nanoscience is so new and nanotechnology is becoming important to the future, people are studing these small parts of matter, called nanoparticles to find out what they look like and what they can be useful for. Scientists believe that some nanomaterials, are capable of being hundreds of times stronger than steel. Other scientists think that this same strong material will be able to make electronic circuits much, much smaller than the ones used in your computer today.

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