60-Second Science

Buckyball Traps Single Water Molecule

The caging of a single water molecule in a buckyball molecule gives researchers a unique chance to study both. Sophie Bushwick reports

The carbon molecule known as a buckyball, a member of the fullerene family, can act as a cage for a variety of other chemicals. And now researchers have used one to trap a single molecule of water. The work appears in the journal Science. [Kei Kurotobi and Yasujiro Murata, "A Single Molecule of Water Encapsulated in Fullerene C60"]

Placing a molecule that's essential to life within a spherically symmetrical one could let researchers learn more about each.

Water molecules stick together, because they carry a slight charge on each end. As the positive pole of one H2O attracts the negative pole of another, the molecules cling tightly together. You can't separate a single water molecule from its fellows with a tiny pair of tweezers, so isolating it in a carbon cage may reveal new secrets about the intrinsic nature of a lone H2O.

What about the cage itself? Researchers already know that buckyballs refuse to dissolve in water, sometimes even floating like miniature beach balls. But what happens when the water is within? Putting polar molecules inside buckyballs may influence the chemical behavior of their outsides, and create new molecules with unique properties. Not to mention making our understanding even…fuller.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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