Graphene and fullerenes

Nanoparticles have very small sizes and large surface area to volume ratios. Their atoms may also be arranged into tubes or rings.

Carbon can form nanoparticle structures with a variety of shapes. The fullerenes form ball shapes and tubes. Graphene consists of a sheet of carbon atoms, one atom thick.


Graphene is an allotrope of carbon. Its structure resembles a single layer of graphite. Graphene has a very high melting point. It is very strong because of its large regular arrangement of carbon atoms joined by covalent bonds. Like graphite, graphene conducts electricity well because it has delocalised electrons that are free to move across its surface.


A fullerene is a molecular allotrope of carbon. Two examples of fullerenes are nanotubes and buckyballs.


A nanotube resembles a layer of graphene, rolled into a tube shape. Nanotubes have high tensile strength, so they are strong in tension and resist being stretched. Like graphene, nanotubes are strong and conduct electricity because they have delocalised electrons.

Covalent structure of a nanotubeNanotubes can be several millimetres long but only a few nanometres wide

Nanotubes can be added to other materials, for example in sports equipment, to make them stronger.


Buckyballs are spheres or squashed spheres of carbon atoms. They are made up of large molecules so are not classed as giant covalent structures. Weak intermolecular forces exist between buckyballs. These need little energy to overcome, so substances consisting of buckyballs are slippery and have lower melting points than graphite or diamond.

Covalent structure of buckminsterfullereneBuckyballs are nanoparticles that have 60 carbon atoms joined by covalent bonds

The ball structure means that this type of fullerene structure can be used to carry small molecules. This can be used to carry medical drugs into the body.

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