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What Are Bucky Balls?

geodesic dome designed by buckminster fuller
Bucky Balls are named after the American architect R. Buckminister (Bucky) Fuller who designed a geodesic dome with the fundamental symmetry of C60, a major form of pure carbon shaped like a soccer ball with pentagons and hexagons.  Although Fuller wasn't the original inventor, he developed the intrinsic mathematics of the dome and received a U.S. patent for it in 1954.  The wider public got introduced to the geodesic dome at the 1964 World's Fair in NYC and also at Expo 67 - the Montreal World's Fair.  [Pictured right.]  At the height of its notoriety, a geodesic dome appeared in the 1967 James Bond movie 'You Only Live Twice.'
The C60 molecule (or so-called buckyball) was discovered in 1985 and the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three chemists (Harold Kroto, Robert Curl, and Richard Smalley) for their discovery of fullerenes, a family of highly symmetrical carbon-cage molecules whose prototypical member is C60, known as buckminsterfullerene, or 'buckyball' for short.  A buckyball structure looks like this:

buckyball structure C60
C60 is the roundest, most symmetrical large molecule known to man. In the beginning C60 could only be produced in tiny amounts, so there were only a few kinds of experiments you could perform on the material. But buckyball science came into its own in the 1990s when scientists discovered how to produce pure C60 in much larger quantities.  This has stimulated lots of activity in chemistry, including biochemistry. 

Researchers today are interested in creating new molecules by adding other molecules to the outside of a buckyball and also in the possibility of trapping smaller molecules inside a buckyball.  It's this application that Dr. Black figures out as a means of keeping Tivaz TB viable so it can be sprayed in the Paris nursery school.