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In the lab, fullerenes gobble gases.

Researchers have worked zealously to stuff buckyballs with various atoms (SN: 12/14/91, p.391). Now it appears that some helium atoms quietly slip inside these cage-shaped molecules on their own during the standard synthesis procedure, which uses graphite electrodes in helium, Martin Saunders and his colleagues at Yale University report in the March 5 Science. By heating a commercial sample of buckyballs to 700 [degrees] C to 900 [degrees] C and using a mass spectrometer to measure the amount of helium released, the team determined that one in every 880,000 fullerene molecules houses a helium atom.

A heated buckyball belches its helium atom out through a "window" that appears when bonds temporarily break in the structure, the group proposes. The energy from such heating is not enough to squeeze the atom through any of the intact rings, explains Saunders. As predicted, the team found it could also open the window to insert gases. After heating a fullerene sample with pure helium-3 at 600 [degrees] C for one hour, they found 5 million times as many of these atoms inside the buckyballs. Using the same technique. they also inserted a neon atom inside one of every 8.5 million buckyballs in a sample.

"These are the very first stable compounds of neon and helium that I know of," says Saunders. Those two noble gases generally form only loose, unstable complexes, he explains.

The Yale group hopes to boost its yields by increasing the pressure to 1,000 atmospheres in order to force more gas atoms through the windows during heating. The experimental results suggest researchers will be able to crack open buckyballs for stuffing, rather than filling them only during synthesis.
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Title Annotation:helium atoms spontaneously enter 1 in 880,000 buckyballs during synthesis
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 20, 1993
Previous Article:Shedding light on the body's interior.
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