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Race to Catch a Buckyball

Program Overview

Carbon is one of the most common building blocks of nature. An entire branch of chemistry-organic chemistry-is devoted to the study of carbon-based matter. For centuries chemists believed that pure carbon could only be found on Earth in two forms, diamond and graphite. The differences between these two materials illustrate a fundamental aspect of chemistry: Different numbers and configurations of the same atoms can produce different materials. In an unexpected discovery in 1985, scientists identified pure carbon in a third form: a molecule that contained 60 carbon atoms in what had to be a different configuration from diamond and graphite. This episode of NOVA documents the experiments that led to this discovery and the subsequent competition between scientific teams to confirm the existence of Carbon 60, isolate a sample of it, and determine the structure and properties of a Carbon 60 molecule.

Teacher's Guide
Race to Catch a Buckyball