The discovery of C60: Buckminsterfullerene.


The molecule was discovered on 4 September 1985 during a short, exciting ten-day period of research carried out at Rice University.

Harry Kroto's original printout with his comments written on the scan
Harry Kroto's original printout with his comments written on the scan, before they knew what the structure of C60 might be.

Discovery paper

Nature 318, 162 – 163 (14 November 1985); doi: 10.1038/318162a0.

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The abstract of the C60 Nature paper

Naming of C60 as Buckminsterfullerene

The Buckminster Fuller Dome Expo67 Montreal was the image in my mind in 1985 when we concluded that C60 might be a closed cage hexagonal network. I advised that we should get a book on Buckminster Fuller domes from the library which Rick Smalley did and he had the book during his model building phase.

Sir Harry Kroto

Kroto continued, "If you look carefully at the structure of the dome, in the top half one can see that the hexagons are in a curved “geodesic” alignment whereas in the bottom half the alignment is clearly horizontal.

"I assume this was done to simplify ground level construction issues. Also around the pentagons the hexagons are distorted to achieve a spheroidal shape.

"The correct reason I named C60 'Buckminsterfullerene' is because this image and my visit were clues to the possible structure.

"As Rick Smalley says in this interview, he did not at first like the name I had coined for C60, ie Buckminsterfullerene, but he changed his mind later!

"“Smalley said that he had overcome any initial reservations he might have had to Kroto’s proposal to name C60 buckminsterfullerene”"

Read the full interview (180KB)

Alex Nickon, alongside Silversmith, was writing a book on named compounds. They contacted Harry Kroto and during the discussion, concluded that Fullerenes should be the name of the new family of cage compounds.

Pages from Alex Nickon's book

Personal memories of the events surrounding the discovery of C60

A day by day account by Harry Kroto

Accounts by the discovery team

There were three outstanding students involved in the discovery experiments, Jim Heath, Sean O'Brien and Yuan Liu.

Jim Heath
Jim Heath next to Ap2
The Rice Sussex team
The O'Brien family
The O'Brien family

Nobel lecture


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