New findings regarding the formation of fullerenes, aka "buckyballs," were recently published in the journal Nature Communications, suggesting that smaller cages grow into larger ones. According to the article abstract, fullerenes self-assemble in a closed network by incorporating atomic carbon and C2. This growth was shown by measuring fullerene response to carbon vapor, and analyzed by Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR) mass spectrometry. When carbon vapor was present, large fullerenes containing hundreds of carbon atoms appeared but without the vapor, only C60 and a few slightly smaller fullerenes were detected.
The Royal Society of Chemistry reported on these findings, noting that key to the research was the powerful FT-ICR mass spectrometer at Florida's High Magnetic Field Laboratory. The research, led by Harry Kroto, who discovered "buckyballs" more than 25 years ago, enabled the team to analyze at extremely high resolution the compounds produced when buckyball-sized fullerenes reacted with vaporized carbon. According to the report, the researchers concluded that smaller fullerenes must grow to C60 and larger fullerenes by "eating up" carbon atoms. A few bonds may be rearranged but the cages never compromise their closed structure; the researchers confirmed this by trapping metals inside the cages, which were retained after growth.
These findings reveal fundamental processes that govern the self-assembly of carbon networks, the same processes of which are likely be involved in the formation of other nanostructures such as nanotubes and graphene. Such fullerene technologies have been incorporated into personal care applications for free radical-scavenging, antiaging, whitening, anti-inflammation, anti-wrinkle, sunscreens, pore-tightening, sebum oxidation control and cellulite control.