The Problem with Buckyballs

"Buckyballs," the subject of this poem, are large molecules made entirely of carbon atoms arranged in a roughly spherical form. They are only roughly spherical, though; their actual shapes are geodesic domes, conceptualized in architecture by R. Buckminster Fuller, and popularized in dome homes, soccer balls, and in Disney's Epcot Center main gate. The nickname of these molecules, "buckyballs," is in honor of the architect "Bucky" Fuller, as is the technical name "buckminsterfullerenes," or just "fullerenes" for short. There are several sizes of buckyballs, C60 (shown at right), C76, C78, C84, and C102, to name a few, and since their discovery, "buckytubes" and "buckytoruses" have also been synthesized.

This poem was first published in the May 1997 issue of The New Zealand Science Monthly.

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The Problem with Buckyballs
Copyright 1996 David Arns
No one on earth had ever seen,
Or even dreamt it could have been,
That carbon atoms, by themselves,
Could form these tiny, hollow shells.

But that's exactly what they do,
And I'm not talking just a few,
But scores will form the spheric wall
That's now been christened "buckyball."

(Now that is its informal name;
Its real one, though it means the same,
Is longer than you've ever seen:
It's called "buckminsterfullerene.")

Now if you thought, you are correct:
Its name came from that architect
Whose modern style and graceful curves
Inspire the honor he deserves.

But, getting back to chemistry,
These carbons all combine, you see,
And form these geodesic domes--
The same shape some folks use for homes.

Or think about a soccer ball:
You've seen its surface patches fall
Into a couple simple forms:
With five or six sides; that's the norm.

And all these carbons seem to know
Exactly where they are to go
To form these spheres of great renown,
Whose name is known in every town.

The biggest problem with these things
Is not the wonder each one brings;
The biggest problem's simply that
We've not yet made a buckybat!

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