Excitement And Emotion Mark Scientists' Fleeting Moments Of Discovery

In the wee hours of a morning 11 years ago-around 1:00 a.m.-Richard E. Smalley slouched on a sofa. The lights were turned off. Sipping a beer, he mulled over his situation. A MORNING REVELATION: The model for buckyballs came to Richard Smalley as he cut and pasted paper pentagons. For a week, the Rice University chemist had been trying to make sense of an experiment. Using a laser, his lab team had zapped carbon to see how its atoms would split and then cluster. The supersonic laser kept pr

Kathryn Brown
Nov 24, 1996

In the wee hours of a morning 11 years ago-around 1:00 a.m.-Richard E. Smalley slouched on a sofa. The lights were turned off. Sipping a beer, he mulled over his situation.


A MORNING REVELATION: The model for buckyballs came to Richard Smalley as he cut and pasted paper pentagons.

For a week, the Rice University chemist had been trying to make sense of an experiment. Using a laser, his lab team had zapped carbon to see how its atoms would split and then cluster. The supersonic laser kept printing graphs with data spikes indicating the formation of 60-atom carbon clusters. But why? What was so special about 60 atoms? And how would this kind of cluster look?

Smalley sighed. Earlier that night at his desk, he had patiently cut white legal paper into tiny hexagons and taped them together, hoping they would form a round model of carbon with 60...

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