Space, Stars, C60, and Soot

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Science  25 Nov 1988:
Vol. 242, Issue 4882, pp. 1139-1145
DOI: 10.1126/science.242.4882.1139


Although carbon has been subjected to far more study than all other elements put together, the buckminsterfullerene hollow-cage structure, recently proposed to account for the exceptional stability of the C60 cluster, has shed a totally new and revealing light on several important aspects of carbon's chemical and physical properties that were quite unsuspected and others that were not previously well understood. Most significant is the discovery that C60 appears to form spontaneously, and this has particularly important implications for particle formation in combustion and in space as well as for the chemistry of polyaromatic compounds. The intriguing revelation that 12 pentagonal "defects" convert a planar hexagonal array of any size into a quasi-icosahedral cage explains why some intrinsically planar materials form quasi-crystalline particles, as appears to occur in the case of soot. Although the novel structural proposal has still to be unequivocally confirmed, this article pays particular attention to the way in which it provides convincing explanations of puzzling observations in several fields, so lending credence to the structure proposed for C60.