Max-Planck-Institut für Festkörperforschung
Hearing in the House of Lords with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry, Lord Reay
Lord Erroll of Hale asked Her Majesty's Government:
What steps they are taking to encourage the use of Buckminsterfullerene in
science and industry.
Lord Reay: My Lords, the Government have been following with interest the emergence of Buckminsterfullerene and support research currently being undertaken of at Sussex University through the Science and Engineering Research Council. However, it must be left to the judgement of firms whether they wish to pursue research into commercial applications of Buckminsterfullerene and other fullerenes.
Lord Erroll of Hale: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer, which is good as far as it goes. Can he not offer more substantial support in this country for the development of this exciting new form of carbon? It is already being manufactured in no fewer than three factories in the United States.
Lord Reay: My Lords, as I said, the Government continue to fund academic research into Buckminsterfullerenes at Sussex University. Many grants have been made available since 1986 which have gone towards that research. SERC also supports a number of researchers investigating the theoretical aspects of chemical bonding relating to fullerenes. The Government funding for collaborative research between industry and the academic world into the commercial application of Buckminsterfullerenes may be available also under Link (through which the state matches private investment in specific research topics) or other schemes.
Baroness Seear: My Lords, forgive my ignorance, but can the noble Lord say whether this thing is animal, vegetable or mineral?
Lord Reay: My Lords, I am glad the noble Baroness asked that question. I can say that Buckminsterfullerene is a molecule composed of 60 carbon atoms known to chemists as C60. Those atoms form a closed cage made up of 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons that fit together like the surface of a football.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware, in supplementing his Answer, that the football-shaped carbon molecule is also known, for some extraordinary reason as "Bucky ball "? It created a considerable stir within the scientific community. As the British Technology Group either has been, or is shortly to be, privatised, is this not a case that should be taken up by the privatised BTG as a British invention?
Lord Reay: My Lords, the privatised BTG will be free to take that decision. We do not feel that it is for the Government to say whether or not Buckminsterfullerenes have commercial usages, nor whether companies should become involved. It must be up to them.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is it the shape of a rugger football or a soccer football?
Lord Reay: My Lords, I believe it is the shape of a soccer football. Professor Kroto, whose group played a significant part in the development of Buckminsterfullerenes, described it as bearing the same relationship to a football as a football does to the earth. In other words, it is an extremely small molecule.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what does it do?
Lord Reay: My Lords, it is thought that it may have several possible uses; for batteries, as a lubricant or as a semi-conductor. All that is speculation. It may turn out to have no uses at all.
Lord Russell: My Lords, can one say that it does nothing in particular and does it very well?
Lord Reay: That may well be the case.
Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, where does the name come from?
Lord Reay: My Lords, it is named after the American engineer and architect, Buckminster Fuller, who developed the geodesic dome, which bears a close resemblance to the structure of the molecule.
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