Graphene and Fullerenes

Graphene and fullerenes are different arrangements of the element carbon. However, their structures are different from both diamond and graphite.


Graphene is a single layer of graphite, so it is only one atom thick.

A single layer of graphite (graphene).

The carbon atoms in graphene are joined by strong covalent bonds to form a hexagonal lattice structure.

Properties and uses of graphene

  • Graphene has delocalised electrons that move along its surface, making it an excellent conductor of both electricity and heat.
  • Graphene is one of the strongest known materials. This is due to the tightly packed carbon atoms, which are joined by strong covalent bonds. However, it is also very light. In fact, graphene is the lightest material known to exist.


Fullerenes are molecules made of carbon atoms that form hollow shapes. Two common examples of fullerenes are:

  • Buckminsterfullerene
  • Nanotubes


The first fullerene molecule to be discovered was buckminsterfullerene, also known as ‘buckyball’.

A buckminsterfullerene molecule.

The molecule contains 60 carbon atoms, which are arranged in a hollow sphere. The spheres mostly contain rings with 6 carbon atoms, but there are also 5-carbon rings and 7-carbon rings.

Uses of buckminsterfullerene

Due to its unique structure, buckminsterfullerene has many uses, such as:

  • Delivering drugs to different parts of the body
  • Lubricants (e.g. in machines)
  • Catalysts


Nanotubes are a type of fullerene made from carbon. They are shaped like long cylinders and have rings with 6 carbon atoms.

2 Nanotubes side by side.

Properties and uses of nanotubes

  • High tensile strength (they can easily be stretched without breaking)
  • Great conductors of electricity and heat

Research into nanotubes is still in the early stages. Due to the properties of nanotubes, they have potential uses in a wide range of specialised materials and electronics.

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