Remembering Harry Kroto

Harry KrotoA giant among giants

Harry Kroto, distinguished chemist and pioneering nanocarbons researcher, passed away on April 30, 2016 at the age of 76. Kroto, a giant among giants, made an immense impact not only on ECS and its scientific discipline – but the world at large.

“Harry Kroto’s passing is a great loss to science and society as a whole,” says Bruce Weisman, professor at Rice University and division chair of the ECS Nanocarbons Division. “He was an exceptional researcher whose 1985 work with Rick Smalley and Bob Curl launched the field of nanocarbons research and nanotechnology.”

Revolutionizing chemistry

That work conducted by Kroto, Smalley, and Curl yielded the discovery of the C60 structure that became known as the buckminsterfullerene (or the “buckyball” for short). Prior to this breakthrough, there were only two known forms of pure carbon: graphite and diamond. The work opened a new branch in chemistry with unbound possibilities, earning the scientists the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The field of nanocarbons and fullerenes, since the discovery by Kroto and company, has evolved into an area with almost limitless potential. The applications for this scientific discipline are wide-ranging – from energy harvesting to sensing and biosensing to biomedical applications and far beyond. Research in this field continues to fill the pages of scholarly journals, making possible innovations that were not even conceived before the seminal 1985 work.

Advocate of science

While his work brought to fruition a brand new avenue for innovation and discovery, Kroto also focused his efforts on building outreach and excitement for STEM among young people.

“Beyond his research eminence, Kroto was a charismatic and tireless public advocate for science and science education,” Weisman says. “He used the celebrity of his Nobel Prize to develop and promote innovative educational programs to get young people excited about science, and he was a frequent spokesman for the scientific community.”

Passion for education

Kroto also touched ECS with his tireless knowledge and passion. Just over 14 years ago, the renowned chemist helped the Society celebrate its biggest milestone to date. Prashant Kamat, professor at the University of Notre Dame and past division chair of the ECS Nanocarbons Division, recalls Kroto’s keynote lecture at the ECS Centennial Celebration in 2002. Aside from the talks Kroto delivered, the chemist’s passion for youth and education still resonates with Kamat.

“In addition to nanoscience research, he was also actively involved in promoting science among school children at that time,” Kamat said. “I fondly remember his encouragement to advance the scientific goals through educational efforts. His legacy in science and education outreach will continue.”

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