If you had $145 million to spare, consider buying a gram of endohedral fullerenes. Touted as the world’s most expensive material, proceeded only by the elusive antimatter, endohedral fullerenes could potentially change the way we keep time. According to scientists at Oxford University, this wonder material could help miniaturize atomic clocks, allowing them to be integrated with a range of portable electronic devices, including smartphone, GPS trackers and so on.
Discovered back in 1985, endohedral fullerenes are composed of tiny spherical carbon structures, held together in what is known as Buckministerfullerene formations. Also called buckyball, the material consists of symmetrical cages of 60 carbon atoms, with atoms of specific non-metals, like nitrogen, helium and phosphorous, trapped inside it. Resembling a football in shape, the substance boasts several impressive features. Speaking about the material, Lucius Cary, the head of the Oxford Technology SEIS fund, said:
At the moment, atomic clocks are room-sized. This endohedral fullerene would make it work on a chip that could go into your mobile phone.
For instance, a nitrogen atom-containing endohedral fullerene has extremely long electron spin lifetime; a property that could potentially pave the way for smaller and incredibly accurate atomic clocks. Recently, Designer Carbon Materials, a startup formed by a team of Oxford researchers, sold 200 micrograms of the material for a staggering $32,000. This amounts to around $145 million per gram, with 200 micrograms being equal to one-third the weight of a single human hair or approximately one-fifteenth the weight of a tiny snowflake. Dr Kyriakos Porfyrakis, a nanomaterials scientist at Oxford and the founder of Designer Carbon Materials, said:
Imagine a minaturized atomic clock that you could carry around in your smartphone. This is the next revolution for mobile.
Believed to be the most accurate time-keeping machines present in the world, atomic clocks have been around since 1949. Due to their somewhat enormous size, however, these clocks have remained fairly inaccessible to the general public. Endohedral fullerenes promise a future, where tiny atomic clocks could be installed into our phones and other GPS devices. The technology could, according to Porfyrakis, help develo GPS trackers that are accurate to less than 1 mm. That seems quite an improvement, especially since currently-available GPS devices have an accuracy that ranges between 1 m and 5 m. Cary added:
There will be lots of applications for this technology. The most obvious is in controlling autonomous vehicles. If two cars are coming towards each other on a country lane, knowing where they are to within 2 m is not enough but to 1 mm it is enough. Every mobile phone could one day contain one of these things.
Lastly from the ‘theoretical’ perspective, endohedral fullerenes are technically the world’s second most expensive material, after antimatter, whose price is around an astronomical $61 trillion per gram – as estimated by NASA. But then again antimatter doesn’t really have any commercial application as of now .