RIP Harry Kroto, 1939 - 2016

Posted by David Eicher
on Monday, May 2, 2016

The world of science lost a great man this weekend with the death of Sir Harold Kroto, FRS, an exceptional professor of chemistry and an amazing thinker. Harry was a Nobel Prize laureate for his 1985 co-discovery of carbon-60, which he named buckminsterfullerene, after the molecule’s shape, which resembled a geodesic dome. You may know the molecules as a buckyball. Laboratory research leading to the discovery that such molecules could form spontaneously from carbon vapor followed simulations of chemical reactions in the atmospheres of red giant stars.

I was fortunate to meet Harry and listen to his spectacular lecture at the 2014 Starmus Festival, in Tenerife. He and I subsequently joined the Starmus Festival board last year. Like many of the smartest people on the planet, Harry was also very down to Earth, warm, and kind. After somewhat tentatively introducing myself to him, he simply blurted out, “Just call me Harry.”

Harry Kroto was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England, a few weeks after the start of the Second World War. Fascinated by a Meccano set as a child, he determined to become a scientist. He had been born into a Jewish family with the surname Krotoschiner, which he later truncated, and he stated that, “religion never made much sense to me.”

Harry was not only a highly accomplished chemist, but also a talented designer. His talks presented an exploration of both, with paths of design, pattern recognition, chemistry, physics, and astronomy interwoven throughout. He spent much of his career as a professor at the University of Sussex, and the final years of his professional life at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The Nobel Prize came in 1996, shared with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley. He was proud of his association with the Starmus Festival and also was a strong supporter of Asteroid Day.

Shockingly, several months ago, Harry was diagnosed with motor neuron disease. Harry will be greatly missed. The world of science has taken a big hit and will not be the same without him.

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