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Buckyballs Polymerized to Form Buckywires

Add a drop of oil to buckyballs, and they join together to form wires like strings of pearls.

Finally! Something useful from buckyballs.

Junfeng Geng at the University of Cambridge, in the U.K., and buddies have found a way to polymerize these microballs so that they line up into buckywires.

The trick that Geng and co have found is a way to connect two buckyballs together using a molecule of 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene–a colorless aromatic hydrocarbon. Repeat that and you’ve got a way to connect any number of buckyballs. And to prove it, the researchers have created and studied these buckywires in their lab, saying that the wires are highly stable.

Buckywires ought to be handy for all kinds of biological, electrical, optical, and magnetic applications. The gist of the paper is that anything that traditional carbon nanotubes can do, buckywires can do better. Or at least more cheaply.

The exciting thing about this breakthrough is the potential to grow buckywires on an industrial scale from buckyballs dissolved in a vat of bubbling oil. Since the buckywires are insoluble, they precipitate out, forming crystals. (Here it ought to be said that various other groups are said to have made buckywires of one kind or another, but none seem to have nailed it from an industrial perspective.)

So what might buckywires be good for? First up is photovoltaics: these buckywires look as if they could be hugely efficient light harvesters because of their great surface area and the way that they can conduct photon-liberated electrons. Then there are various electronic applications in wiring up molecular circuit boards.

But perhaps the area of greatest interest is drug delivery. Geng and co suggest that buckywires ought to be safer than carbon nanotubes because the production method is entirely metal-free. That cannot be said of nanotubes because the reaction that forms them is catalyzed by metallic nanoparticles.

So it looks as if buckywires could have a healthy future. And in the nick of time: it’s only been 25 years since buckyballs were the next big thing.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0906.2216: Synthesis of a Fullerene-Based One-Dimensional Nanopolymer Through Topochemical Transformation of the Parent Nanowire

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