Buckyballs become bucky-bombs

March 18, 2015
Artist's illustration of a bucky-bomb. Credit: Illustration/USC/Holly Wilder

In 1996, a trio of scientists won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discovery of Buckminsterfullerene - soccer-ball-shaped spheres of 60 joined carbon atoms that exhibit special physical properties.

Now, 20 years later, scientists have figured out how to turn them into Buckybombs.

These nanoscale explosives show potential for use in fighting cancer, with the hope that they could one day target and eliminate cancer at the cellular level - triggering tiny explosions that kill without affecting surrounding tissue.

"Future applications would probably use other types of carbon structures - such as carbon nanotubes, but we started with Bucky-balls because they're very stable, and a lot is known about them," said Oleg V. Prezhdo, professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and corresponding author of a paper on the new explosives that was published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry on February 24.

Carbon nanotubes, close relatives of bucky-balls, are used already to treat cancer. They can be accumulated in cancer cells and heated up by a laser, which penetrates through surrounding tissues without affecting them, and targets carbon nanotubes directly. Modifying carbon nanotubes the same way as the buckybombs will make the cancer treatment more efficient - reducing the amount of treatment needed, Prezhdo said.

To build the miniature explosives, Prezhdo and his colleagues attached 12 molecules to a single Bucky-Ball and then heated it. Within picoseconds, the Bucky-Ball disintegrated—increasing temperature by thousands of degrees in a controlled explosion.

The source of the explosion's power is the breaking of powerful carbon bonds, which snap apart to bond with oxygen from the nitrous oxide, resulting in the creation of carbon dioxide, Prezhdo said.

Explore further: Buckybomb shows potential power of nanoscale explosives

More information: Journal of Physical Chemistry, pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jpclett.5b00120

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DarkLordKelvin
4 / 5 (4) Mar 19, 2015
This is a pretty misleading article from PO .. Prezhdo is a computational chemist, as are both of his co-authors (Fileti and Chaban). These results are almost certainly from a simulation, not an experiment. From the summary above, you make it sound like they actually did the experiment, which would make the results much more immediately significant. This is not to cast aspersions in any way on what the authors accomplished or discovered; there's just a very big difference between realizing a new phenomenon in silico, and observing it experimentally in a lab. "There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip."

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