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2015 Annual Science Report

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Reporting  |  JAN 2015 – DEC 2015

Fullerenes and Mass Extinctions?

Project Summary

A re-examination of past reports of the occurrence of fullerenes at mass extinction horizons, using proven extraction and analysis approaches, has failed to detect them. We conclude that fullerene cannot be used as a proxy for bolide impacts or mass extinction events.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
1 Publication
2 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Fullerene (C60) has been reported in a number of geologic samples and, in some cases, attributed to carbonaceous materials delivered during bolide impact events. The extraction and detection of C60 poses significant analytical challenges, and some studies have been called into question due to the possibility of C60 forming in situ. Here, we extracted samples taken from the Permian–Triassic boundary section in Meishan, South China and the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary exposed at Stevns Klint, Denmark, and analyzed the residues using a fast and reliable method for quantifying C60. Extraction of both whole rock and completely demineralized samples were completed under conditions that previously yielded C60 as well as using an optimized approach based on recent literature reports. These extracts were analyzed using mass spectrometry with the soft-ionization techniques, atmospheric pressure chemical ionization (APCI) and electrospray ionization (ESI), which have not been shown to form fullerenes in-situ. In no case were we able to detect C60, nor could we corroborate previous reports of its occurrence in these sediments, thereby challenging the utility of fullerene as a proxy for bolide impacts or mass extinction events.

    Roger Summons Roger Summons
    Project Investigator
    Anthony Carrasquillo

    Changqun Cao

    Douglas Erwin

    Objective 4.2
    Production of complex life.

    Objective 4.3
    Effects of extraterrestrial events upon the biosphere