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 Race to Catch a Buckyball Viewing Ideas

Before Watching

1. Before watching, you may want to review or introduce some basic chemistry terms, such as element, compound, and chemical bond. If you have a periodic table of elements available, use it as a visual aid. Locate carbon on the table and explain to students that carbon is an element, but it is found most often as a component in many common compounds. Some students may be able to list some compounds in which carbon is a component, such as CO2 (carbon dioxide) and CO (carbon monoxide).

2. A main challenge faced by the scientists in this program is to determine the structure of a particular type of carbon molecule. To prepare the students for this aspect of the program, try some simple tessellation activities. Tessellations are shapes that, when fitted together, cover a flat surface with no gaps. Squares and rectangles are particularly easy to tessellate: Tessellations can be found in the pattern of tiles that cover bathroom walls and the brickwork patterns in building walls and pathways. Have the students sketch other shapes that might tessellate easily. (Triangles will tessellate, but pentagons will not.)

After Watching

1. Soon after discovering that they had created a new form of carbon, scientists began trying to create a molecular model. When they created the "Buckyball," the scientists had still not been able to isolate a pure sample or see a single molecule of Carbon 60. Ask the students to reflect on this process of developing and testing a theory. What information did scientists have that helped them create their model? How did they evaluate and revise their ideas? What evidence did they find to help confirm their theories?

2. In building simple models of molecules, the corners, or vertices, represent the outermost atoms in the molecule. In constructing a molecular model, each vertex represents an atom. A Buckyball has 60 vertices, 60 carbon atoms, and no interior atoms. That is why a Buckyball is called C60. Three-dimensional shapes that consist of several copies of the same shape, such as cubes, are called regular polyhedra. Have the students examine a soccer ball. A soccer ball is not a regular polyhedron because it contains both hexagons and pentagons. It has the same structure as a Buckyball.

 Race to Catch a Buckyball Original broadcast:December 19, 1995

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