Fullerenes with Hannah Bell

This semester, RU student Hannah Bell has been working on some pretty cool research with the help of Dr. Timothy Fuhrer.

I began research last semester with chemistry professor Dr. Timothy Fuhrer, working with nanoparticles called fullerenes. When a chemical element can exist in two or more different structural forms (meaning the atoms are bonded together differently), these configurations are called allotropes. A fullerene is an allotrope of carbon; examples are graphite, coal, and diamonds. Fullerenes consist of only pentagonal and hexagonal carbon rings, which causes the molecule to wrap into a closed cage. The shape is often compared to a soccer ball or geodesic dome. They were discovered  in 1985 by Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley, who later won Nobel prizes .

These molecules have promise and potential in different areas, including (but not limited to) medicine, solar energy, and nanoelectronics. However, there’s a boundary.

Basically, we need to know more about how fullerenes  form. There are two theories about how these oddly shaped molecules assemble. The first and oldest  is the “bottom-up” theory, which states that the carbon cages are built up atom-by-atom into the soccer ball shape.

A more recent theory now in competition  is the “top-down” theory, which describes the formation as larger structures breaking down into far more stable fullerenes. Predicting whether small or large fullerenes are more stable at high temperatures is crucial in understanding their formation. If large fullerenes are more stable, the bottom-up theory will be better supported.

Conversely, if small fullerenes are more stable, the newer  “top-down” theory will be  stronger.

So why bother studying fullerenes? Standing out among other compounds, these nanoparticles have strong conductivity, are resilient to high temperatures, and are chemically stable. One potential medicinal application includes use as a contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging scans that would be 40 times better than what is commercially available now.

Another function researched involves utilizing the cage to deliver drugs throughout the body, such as anticancer drugs, to target infected tissue. Researchers are also  modifying the molecules to fit into the section of the HIV molecule that binds to proteins, possibly inhibiting the spread of the virus.

Thus far in my research, I have made models of these molecules using computer software  to study the particles’ electronic and free energy stabilities. This semester, we’ll begin experimental methods along with more computational research like conductivity as a function of potential, or voltage, will measure reduction and oxidation potentials. This data will provide insight into the ability of each fullerene to disperse energy by electron transfer.

Using this data in combination will give a more accurate picture of the overall formation. I aim to collect data that will provide a much greater understanding of the formation of these nanoparticles through both computational and experimental methods, thus making production far more efficient. Being able to produce these molecules will then aid in the advancement of fullerene and metallofullerene(fullerenes with metal atoms inside the cage) application.