Harry Kroto

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Sir Harry Kroto
Harold Kroto 1c389 8471.sweden.jpg
Born Harold Walter Krotoschiner
(1939-10-07) 7 October 1939 (age 74)
Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England
Nationality British
Fields Chemistry
Alma mater University of Sheffield
Doctoral students Jonathan Hare, Wen-Kuang Hsu, Mauricio Terrones, Paul Watts, Steve Acquah, Yi Zheng Jin
Known for Buckminsterfullerene
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1996)
Michael Faraday Prize (2001)
Spouse Margaret Henrietta Hunter (m. 1963; 2 children)

Sir Harold (Harry) Walter Kroto, FRS (born Harold Walter Krotoschiner; 7 October 1939), is the English chemist who 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[edit]

Kroto was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England, to Edith and Heinz Krotoschiner,[1] with his name being of Silesian origin.[2] His father's family came from Bojanowo, Poland, and his mother's from Berlin, Germany. Both his parents were born in Berlin but 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.

As a child, he became fascinated by a Meccano set. Kroto credits Meccano — amongst other things — with developing skills useful in scientific research.[2] 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, he has stated that religion never made any sense to him.[2] He is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.[3] In 2003 he was one of 22 Nobel Laureates who signed the Humanist Manifesto.[4]


Early work[edit]

In 1961 he obtained a first class BSc honours degree in chemistry at the University of Sheffield, followed in 1964 by a PhD at the same institution. His doctoral research involved high-resolution electronic spectra of free radicals produced by flash photolysis (breaking of chemical bonds by light).

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.

After postdoctoral research at the National Research Council in Canada and Bell Laboratories in the USA 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.

Subsequent work[edit]

In the 1980s he launched a research programme at Sussex to look for carbon chains in the interstellar medium. Earlier studies had detected the molecule cyanoacetylene, H-C≡C-C≡N. Kroto's group searched for spectral evidence of longer similar molecules such as cyanobutadiyne, H-C≡C-C≡C-C≡N and cyanohexatriyne, H-C≡C-C≡C-C≡C-C≡N, and found them from 1975–1979.

Trying to explain them led to the discovery of the C60 molecule. (See buckminsterfullerene.) He heard of laser spectroscopy work being done by Richard Smalley and Robert Curl at Rice University in Texas. He suggested that they should use the Rice apparatus to simulate the carbon chemistry that occurs in the atmosphere of a carbon star.

The experiment carried out in September 1985 not only proved that carbon stars could produce the chains but revealed the existence of the C60 species. The three scientists carried out the work with graduate students Jim Heath (now a full Professor at Caltech), Sean O'Brien (now at Texas Instruments), and Yuan Liu (now at Oak Ridge National Laboratory). The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was shared by Curl, Kroto and Smalley in 1996.

In 1995 he jointly set up the Vega Science Trust a UK educational charity (see www.vega.org.uk) 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. 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.

From 2002–2004, Kroto served as President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.[5] Since 2004, he he has held the Francis Eppes Professorship in the chemistry department at Florida State University and presently carries out research in nanoscience and nanotechnology.[6]

He attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief symposia in 2006 and 2007.

He spoke at Auburn University on April 29, 2010, and at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University with Robert Curl on October 13, 2010.[7]

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.[8]

He also presented at IIT Mumbai Tech-fest in 2010.

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 Jan 5 to 11, 2011.[9]

Kroto spoke at CSIcon 2011.[10] 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.[11] He also delivered the IPhO 2012 lecture at the International Physics Olympiad held in Estonia.[12] Kroto runs learning workshops for children, and most recently (February 2013) ran one on buckyballs for 250 children (7-11 years old) at Penn State University.

Personal life[edit]

In 1963, he married Margaret Henrietta Hunter, also a student at the University. Throughout his entire life, Kroto has been a lover of film, theater, art, and music and has even published his own artwork.[13] Kroto calls himself a devout atheist.[2] 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.[14]

Honours and awards[edit]

Kroto was made a Knight Bachelor in the 1996 New Year's Honours list.[15]

Kroto is a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Engineering,[16] as well as of the Board of Scientific Governors at The Scripps Research Institute. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University in 2011.[17]

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


  1. ^ Harold Walter Kroto Biography – life, family, parents, name, wife, school, mother, young, born, college, time, year, Studied Chemistry in College. Notablebiographies.com. Retrieved on 2011-12-25.
  2. ^ a b c d "Harry Kroto – Autobiography". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  3. ^ "Distinguished supporters". British Humanist Association. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  4. ^ "Notable Signers". Humanism and Its Aspirations. American Humanist Association. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  5. ^ RSC Presidents 1980 to Present Day. Rsc.org. Retrieved on 2011-12-25.
  6. ^ "FSU Profile". 
  7. ^ James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy Rice University | Events | Civic Scientist Lecture – Robert F. Curl Jr., Ph.D., and Sir Harry W. Kroto, Ph.D. Bakerinstitute.org (2010-10-13). Retrieved on 2011-12-25.
  8. ^ Lunch with a Laureate. usasciencefestival.org
  9. ^ Erudite. Mgu.ac.in. Retrieved on 2011-12-25.
  10. ^ "SCIcon 2011 Speakers". Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "SCIcon Official Site". Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  12. ^ http://www.uttv.ee/naita?id=12604
  13. ^ http://www.kroto.info/Graphics/index.html
  14. ^ "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian (London). 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  15. ^ The London Gazette. 29 December 1995 http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/54255/supplements/2 |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  16. ^ "Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering". Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  17. ^ "TAU Confers Its Highest Honor on Eight Distinguished Individuals". American Friends of Tel Aviv University. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2011. "At an impressive ceremony on May 14, Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Sir Harold Kroto of Florida State University and bioinformatics innovator Prof. Michael S. Waterman of the University of Southern California were among the recipients of Tel Aviv University Honorary Doctorate degrees awarded at this year's TAU Board of Governors meeting." 

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