Sir Harold W. Kroto, PhD

Nobel Conference 50
Oct. 7 & 8, 2014

Chemist Sir Harold W. Kroto, PhD – 1996 Nobel laureate in chemistry; Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry, Florida State University, Tallahassee; professor emeritus, University of Sussex, Brighton, U.K.

Sir Harold W. Kroto, PhD, FRS, has dedicated his career to research in fundamental areas of chemistry that span an enormous range of topics. His early efforts in spectroscopy led to some highly significant discoveries, including the first chemical compound containing a phosphorus-carbon double bond, and to the discovery of a new class of unusual rod-shaped interstellar molecules, the cyanopolyalkynes. Later, working with Richard Smalley, Robert Curl, and other co-workers at Rice University on the physicochemical nature of carbon vapor, Kroto and his colleagues discovered a new form of pure carbon, the structure of which is a closed shell of 60 carbon atoms. This molecule came to be known as Buckminsterfullerene (or “Bucky Ball”) due to its structural resemblance to the geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. Other closed-shell forms of carbon, collectively known as fullerenes, were subsequently discovered, opening up an entirely new field of chemistry. Kroto, Smalley, and Curl received the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work. Kroto’s current research is in the areas of cluster chemistry and nanotechnology, including investigations into the molecular mechanisms of fullerene formation.

Kroto has a long-standing interest in communicating science to the public, and in 1994 co-founded the Vega Science Trust, which produces audio-visual materials for this purpose. He is also on the advisory board of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. He received the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Prize in 2001 for communication of science to the public.

Kroto was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1996. He has been recognized through many other awards, including the Copley Medal, the Tilden Lectureship and Longstaff Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy Science pour l’Art prize, and the Italgas Prize for Innovation. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, member of the Board of Scientific Governors at the Scripps Research Institute, served as president of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2002–04, and is a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kroto received his BSc degree in chemistry from Sheffield University in 1961, and a PhD in molecular spectroscopy from Sheffield in 1964. He subsequently accepted a postdoctoral position at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada, then spent a year working at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. He then joined the faculty at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, where he served for 37 years. He is currently the Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of Florida State University, a post that he assumed in 2004.