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Shark Science

Nanotech Surprise: Shooting Lasers at Buckyballs Makes Them Bigger 74

SchrodingerZ writes "Since 1985, scientists have been trying to determine how Buckyballs (scientifically named Buckminsterfullerene) are created. They are molecules with the formula C60 (a fullerene) that forms a hexagonal sphere of interlocking carbon atoms. 'But how these often highly symmetric, beautiful molecules with extremely fascinating properties form in the first place has been a mystery.' For over three decades the creation of these molecules have baffled the scientific community. Recently researchers at Florida State University, in cooperation with MagLab, have looked deeper into the creation process and determined their origin. It was already known the the process for buckyball creation was under highly energetic conditions over an instant, 'We started with a paste of pre-existing fullerene molecules mixed with carbon and helium, shot it with a laser, and instead of destroying the fullerenes we were surprised to find they'd actually grown.' The fullerenes were able to absorb and incorporate carbon from the surrounding gas. This study will help to illuminate the path towards carbon nanotechnology and extraterrestrial environmental studies, due to buckyball's abundance in extrasolar clouds."
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Nanotech Surprise: Shooting Lasers at Buckyballs Makes Them Bigger

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  • Slightly OT (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argosian ( 905196 ) on Sunday July 08, 2012 @02:09PM (#40584101)
    "For over three decades the creation of these molecules have baffled the scientific community."

    Statements like this are rather disingenuous to the scientific community and fail to accurately depict the scientific process. Certainly there are a large number of "baffling" topics under investigation, but I wouldn't necessarily characterize the investigators as being "baffled". The overuse of this word in the context of science reporting seems to imply inept bumbling rather than the actual methodical (and occasionally inspired) process of scientific investigation (observe->hypothesize->predict->experiment->evaluate->refine). Certainly, many hypotheses are created, tested and found wanting for any number of reasons, but the very fact that an hypothesis has been falsified or found to be incomplete adds to our knowledge of what isn't so, and narrows the field of possible explanations.

    Certainly, some instances (such as the summary blurb above) can be explained away as laziness in reporting and the desire to reach the lowest common denominator. However, this popular media representation of "baffled" scientists is easily hijacked for the mis-characterization of inconvenient findings by politically, financially or ideologically motivated groups. Couple with the joyful glee with which young earth creationists, ufologists, ghost hunters, psi investigators, AGW denialists and other pseudo- or anti-science proponents claim that science is "baffled" by (or worse, suppressing) their various claims, it is no wonder that a frighteningly large number of people have little understanding of the scientific method, little trust in the scientific enterprise, little appreciation of the degree to which their lives have been improved by science and almost no concept of the time and effort required to move from an observation to a consistent theory to explain it or a practical application of a discovered principle. Scientific literacy seems to be trending sharply downward (at least here in the US, but probably many other countries as well), and the general population is less and less equipped for critically evaluating the endless stream of claims and counter-claims that appear in the marketplace of ideas. Perpetuating the baffled scientist meme is not particularly helpful in combating this trend.

    Granted, this article is a single example, and the case is rather benign, but I am increasingly dismayed by the inaccurate use of "baffled" in science reporting and felt I had to make my case. Perhaps a better statement would have been "The creation of these molecules has been a topic of intense investigation by the scientific community since their discovery in 1985"

Truly simple systems... require infinite testing. -- Norman Augustine