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Actuator for the AP2 Supersonic Laser Vaporization Cluster-Beam Apparatus

  • The Superior Electric Company
    Bristol, Connecticut, United States
  • 10.25 in. H x 9 in. W x 6.5 in. D
    Stainless steel, aluminum, plastic
  • The Richard Smalley Collection
  • 2004.026.009


Discovered in 1985 by the Rice University research team headed by Richard Smalley, Robert Curl, Jr., and Sir Harold Kroto, carbon-60, also known as buckminsterfullerene or a buckyball, is an allotrope of carbon that has a molecular shape similar to a soccer ball or a geodesic dome of futurist architect R. Buckminster Fuller. Extremely stable and capable of conducting electricity, buckyballs opened up a new area of study in fullerenes, which are being explored for their potential in nanotechnology, electronics, optics, and other material-science fields.   

In the discovery of buckyballs, pulsed laser beams directed at a sample of carbon in the main chamber of the AP2 instrument created a plume of vaporized carbon hotter than the temperature at which some stars are formed. A stream of helium brought about sudden and extreme cooling and the clustering of carbon atoms. A skimmer at the threshold of an adjacent vacuum chamber collected the clusters for analysis by a mass spectrometer.

Smalley, Curl, and Kroto shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “their discovery of fullerenes.”

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Arnold O. Beckman

CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry was started with a generous grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in 1987.



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