A buckyball is a soccer ball-shaped molecule made up of 60 carbon atoms. Also known as fullerenes, buckyballs have recently been touted for their potential applications in everything from drug delivery to energy transmission. Yet even as industrial-scale production of buckyballs approaches reality, little is known about how these nano-scale particles will impact the natural environment. Recent studies have shown that buckyballs in low concentrations can affect biological systems such as human skin cells, but the new study is among the earliest to assess how buckyballs might behave when they come in contact with water in nature.
Scientists have generally assumed that buckyballs will not dissolve in water, and therefore pose no imminent threat to most natural systems. "We haven't really thought of water as a vector for the movement of these types of materials," says Joseph Hughes, Ph.D., an environmental engineer at Georgia Tech and lead author of the study.
But Hughes and his collaborators at Rice University in Texas have found that buckyballs combine into unusual nano-sized clumps which they refer to as "nano-C60" that are about 10 orders of magnitude more soluble in water than the individual carbon molecules.
In this new experiment, they exposed nano-C60 to two types of common soil bacteria and found that the particles inhibited both the growth and respiration of the bacteria at very low concentrations as little as 0.5 parts per
Contact: Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society