photo: filling fullerenes
Lead rods, which are infused with
the material; © Harry Dorn

Fullerenes are hollow carbon molecules. Virginia Tech chemistry Professor Harry C. Dorn has created new materials by filling them with atoms of various metals. An important example is a fullerene that encases a sensitive contrast agent (gadolinium) for MRI applications, including as a diagnostic and therapeutic agent for brain tumors. Dorn and his team will further develop, produce, and test fullerene nanoparticles that can identify brain tumor cells and selectively target them for radiation therapy.

Dorn and Professor James Duchamp have invented a generator that makes the new material by remote control. "The new materials come out the bottom like a beer product," Dorn said. The golden liquid is not dispensed into an open cup, of course.

Basically, rods about three times the size of a lead pencil that are made up of graphite and lutetium (Lu) are inserted into big jar through a tube on one side and moved slowly toward a source of electricity on the other side. The jolted rod burns dramatically and the inside of the jar is coated with ash. A nozzle kind of like a miniature carwash wand is lowered from the top to rinse the soot to the bottom and out through a filter. The soot is trapped and the resulting beer-colored solution contains Lu atoms bound to nitrogen inside of fullerenes. This radiolabeled nanomaterial is then further purified by passage through a column that traps the empty-cage fullerenes. The resulting liquid is evaporated and hydroxyl atoms are attached to the molecules so they will be soluble in biofluids.

All of the steps of the process are managed remotely and the purified product is decanted into a shielded container.; Source: Virginia Tech