Discovery of C60 Buckminsterfullerene

– A Day by Day Account

Rashomon II Reality- Kurosawa/Kroto

(An account written in homage to Akira Kurosawa)

When a convoluted event occurs, “Rashomon” factors occasionally apply in that some contributions do not appear to fit well together. The film Rashomon by director Akira Kurosawa, which is based on two short stories, “In the Grove” and “Rashomon” by Ry¯unosuke Akutagawa, deals with this sort of situation.  The fact that in Rashomon all the accounts were fictitious and therefore nothing actually happened  always bothered me until I learned that Kurosawa was not interested in truth. The determination of what actually happened was not Kurosawa’s aim in this film as all the accounts are completely incompatible and embellished by each individual’s personal ego. Apparently Kurosawa says it is about the “Quicksand of Ego”! However, in a real situation something definite actually happens and the lesson I personally draw from Rashomon, (as well as egotistical issues), is that in a real case individuals tend to present their personal “realities” and these can offer deeper and more complete insights into multifaceted events. Basically Objectivity with a capital O is to be found in the Totality of the Subjectivity with capitals T and S, respectively. An interesting corollary of Kurosawa’s thesis is that individuals, not directly involved who seek to present the definitive story (!), can also not be relied upon to evince disinterested accounts as they present their own personal “biased” views! The conclusion is that there is no such thing as a single “objective” story containing no conflicting elements!

An excellent analysis of the Film Rashomon by David Makinster at the bottom off this page


Below is my account of events in two weeks in 1985 with those extracts from Gary Taubes’ article which corroborate my memory of what actually occurred. Taubes’ article also includes comments which conflict with the ones below.*Taubes, Gary. “The Disputed Birth of Buckyballs,” Science 253 (27 September 1991), pp.

Interesting perspectives in this book of interviews “Candid Science” by Istvan Hargittai

I was invited by Bob Curl to visit Rice in Easter 1974 after the meeting that Jim Boggs organized in Austin and while there he showed a fascinating paper by Smalley’s group on SiC2 which showed it was triangular and this explained aa lot. As I was considering how to make molecules with Si=C bonds after being so successful with C=S and C=P programmes.

I went over to see Rick and while he was jumping around Ap2 the idea formed in my mind that this system might confirm my conjecture that in the lab we could easily simulate a carbon star atmosphere and create the carbon chains we had detected and also using R2PI check out Douglas’s suggestion that they were carriers of the DIBs. There was the beautiful work of Hintenberger in the 60’s which indicated this must be easily possible with Ap2.


I did not suggest this to Smalley but decided to discuss the idea with Bob that evening.  We put together the ideas and over  the next 17 months Bob and I exchanged letters working things out.

About June of 1984 my Sussex  colleague Tony Stace handed me a copy  of the Exxon paper in which they had actually done  the basic  experiment.Exxon

I  was a bit miffed but as I  read the paper I realized that they had not really done the experiments with hydrogen and nitrogen and the new family could not possibly be the mythical and totally anti-chemical common sense carbynes as they suggested. I thought they might be graphene flakes and must   admit did not notice that C60 was strong…It  was no  stronger than C11.  Also we wanted to do a second experiment to check out Douglas’s carbon chain DIB conjecture.

In late August 1985 Bob called me to say Smalley had agreed to the experiments so I hopped on the first plane I  could to Houston

I arrived on a Thursday at the end of August and the first thing I did was to give a presentation to the whole group Jim Sean Bob and Rick. Yuan and Qingling might have been there too…it took at least 2 maybe 2.5 hrs. I divulged everything I knew about interstellar chemistry astrophysics carbon stars radioastronomy…the total knowledge acquired from some 10 yrs of study since our 1975 detection of the long carbon chains.

Sean Jim  Yuan

Sunday 1st Sept

Work started on the Sunday looking at the whole range of carbon clusters.  I spent most of my time in the next week with Jim and Sean.  Sean had designed a new nozzle which was ideal for graphite vapourisation.  Jim and I got on like a house on fire having a mutual passion for books and when taking a break popping into book stores. We also had a  mutual interest in playing the guitar although Jim was infinitely better than I and seemingly could play any musical instrument. We worked all hours the three of us often ending up late at night at the House of Pies.  We had of course the Exxon and  AT&T papers.

House of Pies

My initial objective was to look at clusters with n<30 and react  them with H and NH3 to make the cyanopolyynes. However because we could also see the higher set we also  optimized the MS settings to inspect the n=30-100 region.  AT&T had shown that C60 was the strongest so I am sure that this peak was used optimize the range.

In general I worked directly with mainly Jim and often with Sean.  Bob came over every day “religiously” at ca 2pm for an hour or so to discuss the results.  I do not remember if Rick ever came to the lab but anyway at the group meeting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon he was apprised of the state of progress.  I generally produced a few sheets summarizing the results.

There was a bug in the software which meant we could only see the data on the video monitor and not print it out. Yuan was behind the scenes working on it. And I think finally sorted it out by Wed 4th allowing us to really study the data in detail.  I am sure that all of us Jim, Sean,Yuan and I gradually realized the erratic behavior  of the C60 signal…especially after Yuan had  enabled  us to  print out the data and study it carefully.  As we varied the conditions the C60 signal could be varied by an order of magnitude relative to C58 and C62.

The records indicate as follows:

Below is my MS annotated printout

C60 diag

I did not know until many years later that Yuan had written this I the Ap2 lab book also on the same day Sept 4th


The next day Thursday 5th Sept Jim wrote


Sean found conditions in which C60 was 30x stronger thanaadjcent peaks of Friday 6th


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Taubes article excerpt

My memory is that we had a group meeting on Friday 6th and it was decided to go all out for finding the  exact conditions which maximized C60.  I was going to drive up to Dallas at the weekend and return on Sunday.  Jim worked on this over the weekend and may have engineered a lip on the nozzle exit channel to increase the residence time before expansion. I think Rick may have suggested this or Jim thought of it, I cannot remember.   Anyway I got back on Sunday and went to the lab where Jim had increased the intensity ratio finally by 9th to ca 40:1


and finally found conditions which resulted in the beautiful data shown in this printout which was used in the paper.



From then on the discussions centered on what sort of structure could result in a stable C60 species.

I have no idea who proposed the possibility that the graphene network might have closed into a ball when it was clear that C60 did not react.  The  chains did to add 2 H atoms and a flat graphene should to add many H atoms on the edge,  It could have been me or any one of us Rick  Bob Jim or Sean.

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Taubes article excerpt

I don’t remember anyone else’s specific ideas other than my own. I had three:

  1.   A BF geodesic dome: However when the cage structure was aired it reminded me of BF dome image in my copy of



Graphis on expo 67 and we had visited.  Then I suggested we get a book by BF from the library…I did not have a library card so I could not get it out myself so Rick got it out.   I proposed that BF was a clue to a possible structure which should be unreactive as the dangling edge bonds would have been eliminated

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Taubes article excerpt

2)  The stardome


I suggested this structure to Bob on Monday lunch time  as we walked back to the Curl home.   Bob was not convinced. I wondered whether to call home as it was now 12noon and Margaret would just be coming home from work at 6pm UK time. Had Bob been a bit more convinced I would have asked if I could  make what would have been an expensive call.   I was pretty sure it  was in a Xerox box in the guest room.  This is the most important call I  never made!

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Taubes article excerpt

3) a quadruple decker roughly spheroidal sandwich

6/24/24/6 which had but one merit…it came up with the number 60.  I did wonder whether some peculiar overlap involving sp2 and p overlap might explain the unreactivity but it seemed to me that 1 and 2 were more likely because they readily explained the lack of reactivity (cf Sean’s comment in 1 above).

We went out for a celebratory dinner on Monday evening the  Goode  Company

We discussed all the ideas we had.  I talked about my 3 ideas including the fact that the stardome back in the UK had pentagons and hexagons.

I went back to the lab to consult the BF book we had got out of the library but could not find it…That evening Bob had come round to taking my stardome idea seriously  but dissuaded me from calling home in what was now the middle of the night.  Very early the next  morning Bob called me to say come into the lab quickly as Rick had a solution related to the stardome I had discussed with him the night before.


We were exstatic when we saw the model…yes it was almost certainly the same  structure  as the  stardome and I  felt quite happy that two of my ideas were right…as I confirmed when I got home a few days later

Rick was at his PC as we were putting the final touches to the paper and I was standing behind him. He asked me about a title and as BF expo dome was a clue for me I suggested on the spur of the moment

C60: Buckminsterfullerene

Rick typed this in and I do not remember any comment at the time but some time later appears to have added a paragraph about other possible names which I did not notice until after it was published.  When I returned on my second visit Rick indicated in no uncertain terms how much he disliked the name.

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Taubes article excerpt

According to Ed Applewhite excerpt:



When letters were written criticising my name for C60 I wrote the following defense in Nature


Postscript Quotes see:   Othello III iii and Canto VI, XVII: Sir Walter Scott’s “Marmion”