Buckminsterfullerene, C60, with isosurface of ground state electron density (calculated with DFT, the CPMD code). File was rendered using VMD. Credit: ltamblyn/Wikimedia Commons.
CARBON IS THE KEY ELEMENT not only of terrestrial life but also of minerals (carbonates) and fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal), and it is a minor but essential component of our atmosphere. Carbon is produced in the stars by nuclear synthesis from hydrogen that originated from the initial Big Bang. Over the eons, asteroids hitting Earth may have carried carbon to our planet.
Elemental carbon is found in nature as its allotropes—diamond and graphite—which are of vastly differing abundance and thus also of differing value. In the 1980s, a new group of allotropes called fullerenes or buckyballs—named after R. Buckminster Fuller, who designed famous geodesic domes resembling soccer balls—was recognized, first spectroscopically (for which Robert E. Curl Jr., Sir Harold W. Kroto, and Richard E. Smalley received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) and later produced in electric discharge devices using carbon electrodes (Donald R. Huffman and Wolfgang Kratschmer). These new carbon allotropes promise significant applications. Carbon has a remarkable ability to bind with itself to form chains, rings, and complex structures. The variety of carbon compounds with bound hydrogen (hydrocarbons) and other elements (oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus, for example), which are generally called organic compounds, is practically unlimited.
It’s Elemental!: Carbon
Chemical & Engineering News, September 8, 2003