Harold Kroto

Sir Harold Walter Kroto KBE FRS (born October 7, 1939) is an English chemist.


Early Life

He was born Harold Krotoschiner in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England with his unusual name being of Silesian origin. 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 Britain in their 30s as refugees from the Nazis as his father was Jewish. He was raised in Bolton, Lancashire, England, where he attended Bolton School. Here, he was a contemporary of highly acclaimed actor Sir 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. He was raised Jewish, but the religion never made any sense to him. He now claims to have four "religions": humanism, atheism, amnesty-internationalism and humourism. 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.

In 1963 he married Margaret Henrietta Hunter.

Early Work

In 1961 he took a first class B. Sc. honours degree in chemistry at the University of Sheffield, followed in 1964 by a Ph. D. 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as making the first phosphaalkenes (compounds with carbon phosphorus double bonds), his doctoral studies included some unpublished research on carbon suboxide, O=C=C=C=O, and this led to a general interest in molecules containing chains of carbon atoms with numerous multiple bonds.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 to quantum chemistry.

After postdoctoral research at the National Research Council in Canada and Bell Laboratories in the United States of America he began teaching and research at the University of Sussex in England in 1967. He became a full professor in 1985, and a Royal Society Research Professor from 19912001.

Subsequent work

In the 1970s he launched a research program at Sussex to look for carbon chains in interstellar space. 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 in 1975-1978. 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 an amazing, serendipitous result - the totally unexpected existence of the C60 species. The three scientists carried out the work with graduate students Jim Heath (now a full Professor at Cal. Tech.), Sean O'Brien (now at Texas Instruments), and Yuan Liu (now at Oak Ridge). The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was shared by Curl, Kroto and Smalley in 1996.

In 1995 he set up the Vega Science Trust (www.vega.org.uk) to create high quality science films for TV and Internet Broadcast. Vega has produced some 80 programmes of which 50 have been broadcast on BBC TV in the late-night slots. Viewing figures vary from 600,000 to 300,000.

He presently carries out research in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

Awards and Honours

Kroto was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990, and awarded a knighthood (becoming Sir Harold Kroto) in 1996. Later that year he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2004 he won the Copley Medal of the Royal Society.

His alma mater, The University of Sheffield awarded him with an honourary doctorate in 1995 at the undergraduate degree congregation.

On 29th November, 2004, Kroto annouced he was to return his honorary degree from the University of Exeter, in protest over the closure of their Department of Chemistry.

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