Making a buckyball is an excellent activity and opportunity for kids to explore chemistry creatively. It helps visualize fullerenes’ unique structure and properties and explains practical concepts in chemistry and nanomaterials. It may even be fun, so let’s learn a few different ways how to make a buckyball.
What is a Buckyball?
A buckyball is a model of buckminsterfullerene, one of the first nanoparticles discovered. It was discovered at Rice University in 1985 by Harold Kroto, Robert Curl, and Richard Smalley. In 1996, they won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of buckminsterfullerene and the class of molecules.
Buckyballs and buckminsterfullerene were named after Buckminster Fuller, an American architect and inventor most famous for inventing the geodesic dome. Buckyballs resemble geodesic domes, but the most common models are identical to soccer balls.
A buckyball is a truncated icosahedron made of 32 faces and 60 vertices. It comprises regular hexagons and pentagons, making it simple to build a practical model on your own out of various materials. Here are the easiest ways to create a buckyball.
How to Make a Buckyball with Craft Paper or Foam
Making a buckyball out of craft paper or foam is the easiest way and better suited for young children. The resulting ball shape is fun and appealing. To make a buckyball out of paper or foam, follow these steps:
- Create a regular hexagon shape to act as a pattern
- Create a traditional pentagon shape to act as a pattern.
The hexagon and pentagon shapes must have sides that are exactly the same length. They can be any size, but choose a size that is easy for students to cut out and work with. As a rule, sides of 2 or 3 inches work well.
- Using your pattern, cut out 20 hexagons from craft paper or craft foam
- Using your pattern, cut out 12 pentagons from craft paper or foam
- Match up the edge of a pentagon with a hexagon, and tape the sides together
- Go around the pentagon, matching the edge of a hexagon to each edge of the pentagon; tape them together
- Match up the aligned edges of the hexagons and begin to tape them together. The shape should start to curve like a bowl for the edges to line up and attach.
- Go around the edge of the bowl and add five pentagons into the gaps formed by the spaces between hexagons. The tips of the pentagons will fit into the angles between the hexagons.
- Go around the edge of the bowl again and add five hexagons into the gaps between the pentagons
At this point, the buckyball is halfway complete. You can continue building up the sides to make the sphere (continue following the directions below) or start over to make a second half and then attach the halves.
- Go around the edge of the bowl again and add five hexagons between the previous set of hexagons. The bowl shape will begin to close into a sphere shape.
- Go around the edge of the bowl again and add five pentagons between the hexagons
- Go around the edge again and add five hexagons between the pentagons
- Add the final pentagon and close the shape
Making a solid buckyball out of paper or foam is a great way to explore the shapes and structure and helps understand the principles of nanomaterials and engineering. However, a buckyball is not a solid shape; it is an open, cage-like structure held in place by carbon atoms. Making a buckyball out of straws, pipe cleaners, or toothpicks is a more accurate model.
How to Make a Buckyball with Pipe Cleaners
Making a buckyball out of pipe cleaners is a bit more complex but is also more accurate. Pipe cleaners are also more flexible and forgiving, although care is required to preserve the edges and corners of the shapes, preventing them from turning into circles. Here is how to make a buckyball out of pipe cleaners
- To make a buckyball with pipe cleaners, draw a regular hexagon and a regular pentagon to act as your pattern.
- You can make your buckyball any size as long as the sides of the polygons are all the same length.
- Bend your pipe cleaners into 20 hexagons, slightly overlapping the edges to close the shape
- Bend more pipe cleaners into 12 pentagons, overlapping the edges and closing the shape
- Cut short lengths of pipe cleaner to represent the carbon atoms that will attach the buckyballs at the corners. Create 60 connector pieces
- Lay out one pentagon and surround it with five hexagons, matching their edges.
- Using short connector pieces, attach a corner of the pentagon with the matching corners of two hexagons, connecting all three shapes together
- Go to the next corner of the pentagon and attach the two corners of two hexagons to the pentagon
- Go all the way around the pentagon, attaching two hexagon corners to each pentagon corner
- Go around the structure, alternating adding pentagon and hexagon shapes around the outside edge. Remember that each corner attaches one pentagon to two hexagons. The shape will begin to curve into a bowl shape as you connect the corners
- Continue working around the edge and attaching shapes, alternating pentagons and hexagons. Each pentagon is surrounded by five hexagons; each is surrounded by alternating hexagons and pentagons. No two pentagons will ever touch.
How to Make a Buckyball with Toothpicks
Making a buckyball out of toothpicks is fast and easy since the toothpicks are already the same length, and therefore no pattern is needed. However, maintaining the required angle to form a ball shape can be tricky.
Use small foam balls or marshmallows at the corners to attach the toothpicks to each other, and allow yourself to re-position the toothpicks as necessary to maintain the correct curve. Here is how to make a buckyball out of toothpicks:
- Gather 90 toothpicks and 60 foam balls or marshmallows
- Using the toothpicks and balls, make 12 identical pentagon shapes
- Go around one of the pentagons, adding toothpicks at each corner. The new toothpicks should be pointed outward and slightly upward, forming the beginnings of a shallow bowl shape
- Connect a pentagon to the end of one of the new toothpicks at an angle that continues the curved shape. Now you have two pentagons connected by a toothpick in a shallow curve
- Add a toothpick to a corner of the second attached pentagon, facing outward and at a slight upward angle. Now the two pentagons, connecting toothpicks, and two outward-facing toothpicks form five sides of a hexagon.
- Attach another pentagon to the two open-ended toothpicks, completing the hexagon shape and forming a bowl.
- Go around the outside, adding a single toothpick and then a pentagon at an angle that continues the curve, eventually forming a ball.
- If you struggle to hold the shape during assembly, consider placing the bottom half of your buckyball inside a bowl to hold up the sides while you continue to work on the top.
Buckyball Questions and Modifications
Here are some questions and observations to consider while building a buckyball.
- Make the pentagons and hexagons different colors, or decorate them before assembly. Note the repeating patterns of shapes. Try assembling the shapes in different ways, and see how many methods you can use.
- Try pressing down on the top of your buckyball and seeing how strong the shape is. Is the shape stronger or weaker with different sizes of buckyballs?
- Try making a solid buckyball out of paper and an open design out of pipe cleaners. How do these different methods help visualize the construction and connections?
Building a buckyball is a great way to connect chemistry, nanoparticles, geometry, and engineering topics and an interesting exercise for students of all ages. The different methods and materials can be adapted for different ages and ability levels and can also be done as a group activity.
It is a fun way to learn and understand the world. Now, you know how to make a buckyball in several different ways. Have fun making a buckyball of your own.