Posted in | Nanomaterials | Fullerenes

Researchers Observe Growth of Buckminsterfullerenes in Real Time

Artist's impression of the multilayer growth of buckyballs. Credit: Nicola Kleppmann/TU Berlin

Researchers from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Universität Tübingen, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) and Technische Universität Berlin have observed the self-arrangement of football-shaped carbon molecules into ultra-smooth layers, in real-time, using the PETRA III ultrabright X-ray source at DESY. This study provides insight into basics of the growth process that takes place in buckyballs.

Spherical molecules that are made of 60 carbon atoms (C60) with alternating hexagon and pentagon structure are called as buckminsterfullerenes or “buckyballs.” Richard Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, designed geodesic domes and the C60 spherical molecules resemble these domes. Hence, they were named as buckminsterfullerenes.

The researchers studied the manner in which buckyballs settled on molecular vapour substrates. They observed that the carbon molecules grew in islands, in layers one after another, while being just a molecule in height. Tower-like structures were not formed. Before even 1% of the second carbon molecule layer was formed, 99% of the first layer was completed, and this led to formation of extremely smooth layers. A single layer was found to take about a minute to grow, and the surfaces had to be measured within this duration. The DESY PETRA III X-ray source enabled real-time observation of the growth process.

In order to understand the evolution of the surface morphology at the molecular level, we carried out extensive simulations in a non-equilibrium system. These describe the entire growth process of C60 molecules into a lattice structure.

 Kleppmann, PhD student

The research team performed simulations in a non-equilibrium system to study molecular level surface morphology evolution of the system. Three major energy parameters for the system were determined simultaneously. They were - the “diffusion barrier,” the Ehrlich-Schwoebel barrier and the binding energy that exists between fullerene molecules. When a molecule lands on an island it has to overcome the Ehrlich-Schwoebel barrier to hop down, and if it needs to travel on the surface then it has to overcome the diffusion barrier.

The insights gained from this study will enable researchers to tune the nanostructures from carbon molecules for applications in plastic electronics and in organic solar cells that contain C60.

The researchers have published this study titled "Unravelling the multilayer growth of the fullerene C60 in real-time" in Nature Communications journal.


Stuart Milne

Written by

Stuart Milne

Stuart graduated from the University of Wales, Institute Cardiff with a first-class honours degree in Industrial Product Design. After working on a start-up company involved in LED Lighting solutions, Stuart decided to take an opportunity with AZoNetwork. Over the past five years at AZoNetwork, Stuart has been involved in developing an industry leading range of products, enhancing client experience and improving internal systems designed to deliver significant value for clients hard earned marketing dollars. In his spare time Stuart likes to continue his love for art and design by creating art work and continuing his love for sketching. In the future Stuart, would like to continue his love for travel and explore new and exciting places.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Milne, Stuart. (2014, November 10). Researchers Observe Growth of Buckminsterfullerenes in Real Time. AZoNano. Retrieved on October 21, 2019 from

  • MLA

    Milne, Stuart. "Researchers Observe Growth of Buckminsterfullerenes in Real Time". AZoNano. 21 October 2019. <>.

  • Chicago

    Milne, Stuart. "Researchers Observe Growth of Buckminsterfullerenes in Real Time". AZoNano. (accessed October 21, 2019).

  • Harvard

    Milne, Stuart. 2014. Researchers Observe Growth of Buckminsterfullerenes in Real Time. AZoNano, viewed 21 October 2019,

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback