Buckminsterfullerene Structure – The Most Symmetric Molecule

Buckminsterfullerene structure has many outstanding properties, but one of the most striking is its symmetry.

To be accurate there are 120 symmetry operations. In other words it means rotations around the axis and reflections in the plane. And because C60 molecule can show the highest amount of symmetry operations, it is the most symmetric one.

In fact buckyball, with its 60 carbon atoms, is the most symmetrical molecule carbon atom can take.

This beautiful molecule proves to have an enormous potential in various applications.

Let’s learn a bit more about its fascinating structure.


Buckminsterfullerene Structure – The Basic Facts

Buckminsterfullerene also known as C60 molecule or buckyballs was named after famous American architect and futurist, Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, who designed the geodesic dome, which shape resembles the structure of the C60 molecule.

The molecule is formed by twenty hexagons and twelve pentagons. A carbon atom is at each vertex of each polygon and there is a bond along each polygon edge.


How Does the Buckyball Structure Look Like?

Imagine a soccer (football) ball. It also consists of twenty white hexagons and twelve black pentagons. The shape of the soccer ball resembles the C60 molecule very precisely.


Interesting Facts

If we compared the size of the buckyball and the soccer ball, it would be the same ratio as if we would compare the soccer ball to the size of the Earth.

More Detailed Description of the Structure of Buckminsterfullerene

Fullerenes are pure carbon molecules that make the cage of carbon atoms and C60 is one of the members of fullerene family.

Considering their structure they can be either closed (buckyballs) or opened (buckytubes).

You can find its structure figures below.

Crystal StructureFace-centered cubic, cF1924
Space GroupFm3m, No. 225
Lattice Constanta = 1.4154 nm


Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 at Rice University by a group of scientists from which three of them were awarded by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996. In their experiments they let the graphite to undergo the laser ablation.

And that is how they discovered C60 molecule. They found out that this molecule is the most common fullerene.

They saw a perfect molecule.  As we already know it consists of twenty hexagons and twelve pentagons where the centers of the pentagons are the corners of icosahedron. To be more precise C60 molecule is a truncated icosahedron. Each of its pentagon shares the edges with the adjacent hexagons.

The fact that the buckyballs are made from closed cages of carbon hexagons and pentagons is supported by two theories:

  • Euler’s Formula
  • Descartes’ Theore

Based on the theorem of the mathematician Leonhard Euler a spherical surface that is built up from pentagons and hexagons must have exactly twelve pentagons.


You Should Also Know

The C60 molecule is actually the smallest buckyball. It is important to mention that there are no pentagons in contact, which means they do not share a corner or an edge with a neighboring pentagon.


A Helpful Insight into the Structure of the Buckminsterfullerene

There is no doubt that the structure of Buckminsterfullerene is truly revolutionary discovery that excites the scientific world as it suggests great properties that can be used for many applications.

As you already know, this interesting molecule is the most symmetric one and consists of twenty hexagons and twelve pentagons. It is a truncated icosahedron and also the smallest buckyball.

Are you also interested in the C60 molecule structure? You are welcome to share your opinions with us.

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