Two years ago, the 60-carbon, soccer ball-shaped buckminsterfullerene was just a curiosity for Larry Lewis, a staff chemist at the General Electric Co. Corporate Research & Development center in Schenectady, N.Y. At the time, his interest in the recently identified molecule was restricted to "what if" questions inspired by perusing numerous journal articles about it. He couldn't do any lab work with it, though, Lewis says, because "there wasn't enough of the stuff to do chemistry with."

But all of that changed last September, when scientists succeeded in making gram quantities of the material. Now, just about any bench scientist can join the original "buckyball" pioneers in exploring the properties of C60 in his or her own lab.

It was late on an August evening six years ago that Rice University professor Richard Smalley sat in his kitchen, cutting out shapes from a legal pad and taping them together. He...

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