Carbon is a wonderfully utilitarian element, forming an essential part of DNA, protein and many other molecules necessary for life. Diamonds and pencil ‘leads’ are both made of carbon.
A particularly interesting form of carbon is called graphene. Graphene is one atom thick, and can be made into narrow ribbons, fullerenes such as nanotubes and Buckyballs (buckminsterfullerenes), and nano-diamonds.
Petr Král’s laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago may have discovered a way to shape graphene into even more complex shapes. In computer simulations, they carefully positioned tiny nanodroplets of water along sheets of graphene. Although the water and graphene do not bind to each other, the van der Waals forces (weak molecular interactions) between them can bend and roll the graphene into a variety of desired shapes. The simulation yielded capsules, knots, sandwiches and rings. There are myriad uses for such structures in medicine, superconductivity and as building blocks of nanodevices.
Buckyball, created by Michael Ströck (mstroeck), February 6, 2006, in iMol for Mac OS X and Photoshop CS2