"Many very clever people are currently working on possible commercial uses for fullerenes. There may be a breakthrough just around the corner, but the applications sector is likely to establish property rights before disclosing the breakthrough. A quick search of the Internet using the keywords 'fullerene patents' returns many hits, and going to the Fullerene Patent Database leads to a list of 149 related patents awarded through 1996.
"When considering the ultimate real-world impact of fullerenes, it is important that we not keep our horizon too narrowly focused. For example, one direct outcome of fullerene research has been the discovery of carbon-based nanotubes. [Editors' note: These are structures in which crystalline arrays of carbon atoms form tiny, hollow cylinders.] These structures are yet another example of a new molecular structure that, with a fertile imagination, might lead to a commercial product--perhaps by aiding in the study and manipulation of materials at the atomic scale. A technology based on nanotubes might never have come had it not been for the discovery of fullerenes. Such is the connectedness of science.
"Are there recognized applications of fullerenes today that are guaranteed to have an effect on the lives of our children in, say, 2050? Not to my knowledge. But will such applications eventually arise? I feel comfortable that they will. Incidentally, there was a scene in Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Worf's son Alexander produced fullerenes in chemistry class and filled them with water. This 24th-century science experiment may not constitute an application, but another Star Trek episode mentioned the use of C70 (a 70-atom fullerene) in a communicator."