Developments to Watch
THE `BUCKYBALL' THROWS A NEW CURVE AT SCIENTISTS
Buckyballs are on a roll. Last year, scientists learned how to make this class of unusual molecules that each contain 60 carbon atoms, arranged in a form resembling Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. Chemists sought to develop uses for these, including superslippery lubricants. Then in early April, scientists at AT&T Bell Labs announced that thin films made from these exotic materials could conduct electricity.
Now, the Bell Lab researchers have made an even more startling finding. When just the right amount of potassium is added to these thin films, the buckyballs become superconductors at temperatures as high as 18 degrees above absolute zero. That's not nearly as warm as the new wave of high-temperature superconductors but is far higher than scientists had expected, based on the properties of another form of carbon, graphite. Scientists don't foresee any immediate practical applications, but the discovery poses an intriguing challenge to theoretical physicists, who now want to discover precisely how the superconductivity occurs.EDITED BY WILLIAM D. MARBACH