Harry Kroto

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Sir Harry Kroto
Harry Kroto.jpg
Born Harold Walter Krotoschiner
(1939-10-07) 7 October 1939 (age 82)
Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England
Nationality British
Fields Chemistry
Alma mater University of Sheffield
Thesis The spectra of unstable molecules under high resolution (1964)
Known for Buckminsterfullerene
Influences Harry Heaney[1]
Notable awards

Sir Harold (Harry) Walter Kroto, FRS[2] (born Harold Walter Krotoschiner; 7 October 1939), is an English chemist. He shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley. Kroto is the Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry at the Florida State University, which he joined in 2004. Prior to that, he spent a large part of his career at the University of Sussex, where he now holds an emeritus professorship.

Early years

Kroto was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England, to Edith and Heinz Krotoschiner,[1][3] with his name being of Silesian origin.[4] His father's family came from Bojanowo, Poland, and his mother's from Berlin, Germany. Both his parents were born in Berlin and came to Great Britain in the 1930s as refugees from the Nazis because his father was Jewish. He was raised in Bolton, Lancashire, England, and attended Bolton School, where he was a contemporary of the highly acclaimed actor Ian McKellen. In 1955, the family name was shortened to Kroto.[1]

As a child, he became fascinated by a Meccano set.[5] Kroto credits Meccano — amongst other things — with developing skills useful in scientific research.[4] He developed an interest in chemistry, physics, and mathematics in secondary school, and because his sixth form chemistry teacher (Harry Heaney – who subsequently became a University Professor) felt that the University of Sheffield had the best chemistry department in the United Kingdom, he went to Sheffield.

Although raised Jewish, Harry Kroto has stated that religion never made any sense to him.[4] He is a humanist who claims to have three religions: Amnesty Internationalism, atheism, and humor.[6][7][8] He is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.[9] In 2003 he was one of 22 Nobel Laureates who signed the Humanist Manifesto.[10]

Education and academic career


Kroto was educated at Bolton School and went to Sheffield University in 1958. At Sheffield he obtained a first class honours BSc degree in Chemistry (1961) and a PhD in Molecular Spectroscopy (1964).[1] At University he also became art editor of “Arrows” the University student magazine, played tennis for the University team (reaching the UAU finals twice) and was President of the Student Athletics Council (1963–64). After a 2-year postdoctoral position at the National Research Council in Ottawa from 1964-1966 carrying out further work in molecular spectroscopy, he spent a year at the Murray Hill Bell Laboratories in New Jersey (1966-1967) carrying out Raman studies of liquid phase interactions and worked on quantum chemistry. He started his academic career at the University of Sussex in Brighton.[1]

Among other things such as making the first phosphaalkenes (compounds with carbon phosphorus double bonds), his doctoral studies included some unpublished research on carbon suboxide, O=C=C=C=O, and this led to a general interest in molecules containing chains of carbon atoms with numerous multiple bonds. He started his work with an interest in organic chemistry, but when he learned about spectroscopy it inclined him towards quantum chemistry; he later developed an interest in astrochemistry.[1]

After postdoctoral research at the National Research Council in Canada and Bell Laboratories in the United States he began teaching and research at the University of Sussex in England in 1967. He became a full professor in 1975, and a Royal Society Research Professor from 1991 – 2007.[1]

Early work at University of Sussex

During 1967–1985 he carried out research mainly focused on the spectroscopic studies of new and novel unstable and semi-stable species. This work resulted in the birth of the various fields of new chemistry involving carbon multiply bonded to second and third row elements e.g. S, Se and P. A particularly important breakthrough (with Sussex colleague John Nixon) was the creation of several novel, new phosphorus species detected by microwave spectroscopy. This work resulted in the birth of the field(s) of phosphaalkene and phosphaalkyne chemistry. These species contain carbon double and triple bonded to phosphorus (C=P and C≡P).[11]


In 1975 Sussex laboratory microwave measurements (with Sussex colleague David Walton) on long linear carbon chain molecules led to radio astronomy observations (with Canadian astronomers) which revealed the surprising fact that these unusual carbonaceous species existed in relatively large abundances in interstellar space as well as the outer atmospheres of certain stars – the carbon-rich red giants.[12]

Discovery of buckminsterfullerene

In 1985, on the basis of the Sussex studies and the stellar discoveries, laboratory experiments (with co-workers Jim Heath Sean O’Brien, Yuan Liu, Robert Curl and Rick Smalley at Rice University) which simulated the chemical reactions in the atmospheres of the red giant stars uncovered the amazing fact that a stable C60 molecule could form spontaneously from a condensing carbon vapour.[13]

Buckminsterfullerene, C60

The C60 molecule is an elegant molecule with the same symmetry pattern as a football, with 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons.[14] Kroto named the molecule buckminsterfullerene, after Buckminster Fuller who had conceived of the geodesic domes, as the dome concept had provided a clue to the likely structure of the new species.[15]

The discovery of C60 caused Kroto to postpone his dream of setting up an art and graphic design studio – he had been doing graphics semi-professionally for years. Indeed his first major award was for graphics – The Sunday Times Book Jacket Design Award (1964). In 1985 the C60 discovery appeared so exciting that he shifted his research from spectroscopy in order to probe the consequences of the C60 structural concept (and prove it correct) and to exploit the implications for chemistry and material science. His present research is in the areas of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

Research at Florida State University

During the period 2004-5 he left the University of Sussex to take up a new position as Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry at Florida State University.[16] At FSU he is carrying out fundamental research on: Carbon vapour with Professor Alan Marshall;[17][18] Open framework condensed phase systems with strategically important electrical and magnetic behaviour with Professors Naresh Dalal (FSU) and Tony Cheetham (Cambridge);[19] and the mechanism of formation and properties of nano-structured systems.[20][21][22] In addition, he participates in research initiatives at FSU that probe the astrochemistry of fullerenes, metallofullerenes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in stellar/circumstellar space, as well as their relevance to stardust.[23][24][25] In 2007 he started a new Internet educational initiative. This Global Education Outreach in Science, Engineering and Technology – project known as GEOSET is streaming SET programmes of all kinds at www.geoset.info and www.geoset.fsu.edu. This project aims to help teachers improve the quality of science education in schools worldwide. From 2004 he has been on the Scripps Research Institute Board of Scientific Governors and was elected a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 2007.

Educational outreach and public service

In 1995 he jointly set up the Vega Science Trust a UK educational charity to create high quality science films including lectures, interviews with Nobel Laureates, discussion programmes, careers and teaching resources for TV and Internet Broadcast. Vega has produced some 280 plus programmes of which 50 have been broadcast on BBC TV. All programmes stream for free from the Vega website which acts as a TV science channel. The website which is accessed by over 165 countries is designed by Harry Kroto and shows his other main interest – graphic design.

Sir Harold Kroto at CSICON 2011

In 2009, Kroto spearheaded the development of a second science education initiative, GEOSET.[26] Short for the Global Educational Outreach for Science, Engineering and Technology, GEOSET is an ever-growing online cache of recorded teaching modules that are freely downloadable to educators and the public. The program aims to increase knowledge of the sciences by creating a global repository of educational videos and presentations from leading universities and institutions.[27]

In 2003, prior to the Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq on the pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Kroto initiated and organised the publication of a letter to be signed by a dozen UK Nobel Laureates and published in the Times. It was composed by his friend the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate the late Sir Joseph Rotblat and published in The Times on 15 February 2003.[28]

He wrote a set of articles, mostly opinion pieces, from 2002-2003 for the Times Higher Education Supplement, a weekly UK publication.[29][30]

From 2002–2004, Kroto served as President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.[31] Since 2004, he has held the Francis Eppes Professorship in the chemistry department at Florida State University and presently carries out research in nanoscience and nanotechnology.[32]

He spoke at Auburn University on 29 April 2010, and at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University with Robert Curl on 13 October 2010.[33]

In October 2010 Kroto participated in the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Lunch with a Laureate program where middle and high school students had the opportunity to engage in an informal conversation with a Nobel Prize–winning scientist.[34]

He spoke at Mahatma Gandhi University, at Kottayam, in Kerala, India in January 2011, where he was an 'Erudite' special invited lecturer of the Government of Kerala, from 5 to 11 January 2011.[35]

Kroto spoke at CSIcon 2011.[36] CSIcon is a convention "dedicated to scientific inquiry and critical thinking" organized by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in association with Skeptical Inquirer magazine and the Center for Inquiry.[37] He also delivered the IPhO 2012 lecture at the International Physics Olympiad held in Estonia.[38]

In 2014, Kroto spoke at the Starmus Festival in the Canary Islands, delivering a lecture about his life in science, chemistry, and design.[citation needed]

Graphic design

Kroto's graphic design work has resulted in numerous posters, letterheads, logos, book/journal covers, medal design, etc. He has produced artwork after receiving graphic awards in the Sunday Times Book Jacket Design[39] competition (1964) and the Moet Hennesy/Louis Vuitton Science pour l'Art Prize (1994). Other notable graphical works include the design of the Nobel UK Stamp for Chemistry[40] (2001) and features at the Royal Academy (London) Summer Exhibition (2004).

Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology

The Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology (Geoset) initiative uses new IT technology to provide imaginative teaching material in modules focused relatively tighly on specific topics. It is a highly flexible medium enabling a wide range of different educational approaches to be explored and it is particularly useful for STEM teachers who will find valuable downloadable teaching resource material created by innovative science and technology experts and educators. The materials has been created by faculty and students in universities as well as by high schools, thus guaranteeing a measure of reliability. A wonderful bonus of GEOSET recordings is that they provide revolutionary additions to the students' resumes, as they improve immeasurable succuess in gaining jobs, cholarships, award, and postdocs. The key aim of GEOSET is the creation of global network of participating sites catering to local and globed need for much improved STEM education. Participating institutions each set up its own streaming node and upload URLs with associated information to the searchable gateway www.geoset.info.

Personal life

In 1963, he married Margaret Henrietta Hunter, also a student at the University. Harry and Margaret Kroto have two sons: Stephen and David. Throughout his entire life, Kroto has been a lover of film, theatre, art, and music and has published his own artwork.[41]

Kroto is a "devout atheist"[4] who holds that beliefs in immortality derive from lack of the courage to accept human mortality.[1] He supports Amnesty International.[42] He has referred to his view that religious dogma causes people to accept unethical or inhumane actions: "The only mistake Bernie Madoff made was to promise returns in this life."[43] He holds that scientists have a responsibility to work for the benefit of the entire species.[44] On 15 September 2010, Kroto, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter published in The Guardian, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK.[45]

Honours and awards

Major awards

  • Tilden Lectureship of the RSC, 1981
  • Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1990[2]
  • International Prize for New Materials American Physical Society, 1992 (with R F Curl and R E Smalley)
  • Italgas Prize for Innovation in Chemistry, 1992
  • Royal Society of Chemistry Longstaff Medal, 1993
  • Hewlett Packard Europhysics Prize, 1994 (with Wolfgang Kraetschmer, Don Huffman and Richard Smalley)
  • Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996 (shared with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley)
  • American Carbon Society Medal for Achievement in Carbon Science, 1997 (shared with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley)
  • Blackett Lectureship (Royal Society), 1999
  • Faraday Award and Lecture (Royal Society), 2001
  • Dalton Medal (Manchester Lit and Phil), 1998
  • Erasmus Medal of Academia Europaea, 2002
  • Copley Medal of the Royal Society, 2002
  • Order of Cherubini (Torino), 2005
  • Kavli Lecturer, 2008

Kroto was made a Knight Bachelor in the 1996 New Year Honours list.[46]

The University of Sheffield North Campus contains two buildings named after Sir Harry Kroto, The Kroto Innovation Centre and the Kroto Research Institute.[47][48][49]

Honorary degrees

  1. Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)
  2. University of Stockholm (Sweden)
  3. University of Limburg (now Hasselt University) (Belgium)
  4. University of Sheffield (UK)
  5. University of Kingston (UK)
  6. University of Sussex (UK)
  7. University of Helsinki (Finland)
  8. University of Nottingham (UK)
  9. Yokohama City University (Japan)
  10. University of Sheffield-Hallam (UK)
  11. University of Aberdeen (Scotland)
  12. University of Leicester (UK)
  13. University of Aveiro (Portugal)
  14. University of Bielefeld (Germany)
  15. University of Hull (UK)
  16. Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)
  17. Hong Kong City University (HK China)
  18. Gustavus Adolphus College (Minnesota, US)
  19. University College London (UK)
  20. University of Patras (Greece)
  21. University of Dalhousie (Halifax, NovaScotia, Canada)
  22. University of Strathclyde (Scotland)
  23. University of Manchester (UK)
  24. Kraków Mining University (Poland)
  25. University of Durham (UK)
  26. Queens University Belfast (NI)
  27. University of Surrey (UK)
  28. Polytechnico di Torino (Italy)
  29. University of Chemical Technology – Beijing (China)
  30. University of Liverpool (UK)
  31. Florida Southern College (US)
  32. Keio University (Japan)
  33. University of Chiba (Japan)
  34. University of Bolton (UK)
  35. University of Hartford (US)
  36. University of Tel Aviv (Israel)
  37. University of Poitiers (France)
  38. Universidad Complutense de Madrid
  39. Naresuan University (Thailand)
  40. Vietnam National University (Hanoi)
  41. Edinburgh University (UK)
  42. University of Primorska (Slovenia)

Honorary degrees returned due to closure of Chemistry Departments

  1. Hertfordshire University[50]
  2. Exeter University[51]


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  31. RSC Presidents 1980 to Present Day. Rsc.org. Retrieved on 25 December 2011.
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  38. http://www.uttv.ee/naita?id=12604
  39. http://www.kroto.info/Graphics/Covers/sundaytimes2.jpg. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. http://www.stamp-photos.com/picture/number144.asp. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. http://www.kroto.info/Graphics/index.html
  42. Harry Kroto Quotes http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3096030.Harry_Kroto. Retrieved 31 August 2014. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/jul/01/religion-euthanasia
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  50. "Kroto protests cutbacks".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  51. "Nobel prize winner joins Exeter closure protest".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links