Harry Kroto Nobel Prize Chemist

This is from Friday’s i paper. It is hard to imagine modern chemistry without the input of this man and his co-workers. As with so many top scientists, he was also a musician:

Sir Harry Kroto, an English chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize or his role in the discovery of the buckyball, a spherical carbon molecule that advanced scientific understand ing of a chemical building block of life, has died at he age of 76.

Dr Kroto … was trained in spectroscopy, a field of science in which he spectrum of light from an object such as a star is studied to infer that object’s chemical composition. He was researching the carbon molecules in interstellar space when he initiated a fruitful collaboration with two US chemists at Rice University in Texas: Richard Smalley and Robert Curt Jun. The three, who together went on to receive the Nobel, met other colleagues at a high-powered Rice laboratory in 1985. “This lab”, one collaborator Jim Heath, told the journal Science, “is like being in an Army helicopter or something: you have 5 lasers going over your head; it’s noisy; all kinds of pumps are gong and data coming on screen. But Harry, whenever he saw anything a little  bit unusual, he would really key in on it.”

Over an intense period of days, Dr Kroto and his collaborators conducted experiments that resulted in the discovery of a carbon molecule unlike graphite or diamonds, the only previously known forms of the substance. The molecule they chanced upon contained 60 carbon atoms and was highly stable. When they assembled it in a model, the molecule revealed itself to be beautiful; it resembled the geodesic dome, such as the one at Epcot Centre at Walt Disney World in Florida, patented by the inventor R. Buckminster Fuller… The scientists agreed to name the molecule buckminsterfullerene, or fullerene. In popular parlance, the molecules became known as buckyballs.

Besides the immediate advancement in pure science, the findings seemed to promise future applications in fields as varied as superconductivity and medicines. The study of buckyballs led to the discovery of cylindrical carbon structures called carbon nanotubes, which propelled the field of nanotechnology. “From a theoretical viewpoint,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences declared in awarding the Nobel, “the discovery of he fullerenes has influenced our conceptions of such widely separated scientific problems as the galactic carbon cycle and classical aromaticity, a keystone of theoretical chemistry.”

One of Cambridgeshire-born Dr Kroto’s other loves was music. He once told a radio interviewer that he had thought of a career as a guitarist until “Eric Clapton came along and made me look like someone with honey stuck on their fingers.” Speaking to students as a Nobel laureate, he encouraged them to pursue endeavours in which they would never be satisfied with second best.


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