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In the wild, a bolt of "bucky" luck.

Last summer, geochemist Peter R. Buseck and his collegues at Arizona State University in Tempe identified the first naturally occurring fullerenes in a rock from Russia called shungite (SN: 7/11/92, p.20). How the buckyballs got there remains a mystery, but the researchers noted parenthetically in their paper that few environments in nature - besides stellar interiors and lightning strikes - meet the extreme temperatures believed necessary for synthesis of the molecules.

Lo and behold, the team reports in the March 12 SCIENCE, it has discovered fullerenes forged by lightning. While it seemed a long shot, the team hit pay dirt after sampling glassy lightning-seared rocks - known as fulgurites - from just five locations. Using mass spectroscopy to analyze a fulgurite from Sheep Mountain in southern Colorado, they detected the 60- carbon spherical buckyball and its larger, 70-carbon cousin.

Lightning struck this buff-colored rock - derived from volcanic ash-with voltages and heat well in excess of that used in laboratory synthesis. The bolt left a network of glassy black channels running through the rock. The fullerenes occurred in a tubular blister near the surface, Buseck says. He speculates that pinecones and pine needles on the soil surface provided the necessary carbon building blocks.

Fullerenes found in nature may provide hints about the range of conditions and mechanisms that lead to their synthesis. So far, the Sheep Mountain fulgurite and the shungite - a coal-like sedimentary material - appear to have very different histories. Buseck is now widening his search to include even common rocks. "We don't know that the conditions have to be so extreme," he says. "I want to keep an open mind."
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Title Annotation:naturally occurring fullerenes forged by lightening strikes
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 20, 1993
Previous Article:In the lab, fullerenes gobble gases.
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