A personal tribute
Harry Kroto was a remarkable person, an accomplished and versatile scientist with an insatiable curiosity, a wide range of interests, infectious enthusiasm and a passion for communicating science to individuals and audiences of all ages. The pinnacle of his scientific achievements was the discovery, in 1985, with Robert F. Curl Jr and Richard E. Smalley, of C60 named buckminster fullerene because the molecule was considered to have a truncated icosahedral structure analogous to the geodesic domes of the American architect Buckminster Fuller . In this publication, the authors also indicated that the structure of the C60 molecule corresponds to that of the modern football, in being spherical and constructed of 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons. On 9 October 1996, Kroto, Curl and Smalley were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of fullerenes [2,3].
Subsequent to his death on 30 April 2016, there have been a large number of tributes and obituaries to Harry Kroto, including one from my co-editor, Tony Stace , three articles in the June 2016 issue of Chemistry World (pp. 42–45) published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and many broadsheet newspapers (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/may/05/sir-harry-kroto-obituary, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2016/05/02/sir-harold-kroto--obituary/). These articles provide key details of Harry's life and an appreciation of his scientific career and achievements plus a selection of many of the recognitions he received. Furthermore, Harry's CV is available on the web (http://www.kroto.info/general-info/cv/).
Harry's life is a fascinating narrative of: the son of refugees from Germany in 1937 who grew up in Bolton, UK; studied at Sheffield University for his BSc and PhD; spent 3 years at leading laboratories in North America before joining the newly formed School of Chemistry & Molecular Sciences at the University of Sussex, UK, as a tutorial fellow, rising through the ranks to become Professor of Chemistry in 1985; played a crucial role in the discovery of C60 and in the subsequent fascinating journeys of discovery in the synthesis and investigations of fullerenes and other carbon networks and the recognition of their widespread occurrence on Earth and in interstellar space; left Sussex in 2004 to join Florida State University at Tallahassee, returning to the UK in 2015. He continued to undertake original research throughout his career; his last contribution being published in April 2016 .
Harry not only was responsible for major scientific developments but also he was an inspirational colleague and teacher who was always prepared to share his enthusiasms for science, especially with children. His communication skills were enhanced by his wide range of personal interests and his considerable talents in art and design. In 1994, he established the Vega Science Trust in collaboration with Dr Patrick Reams, a BBC Education Producer. The sense of purpose and significance of the Vega Science Trust was clearly demonstrated when, in 2001, Harry was awarded the Royal Society's Michael Faraday Prize, the UK's premier award for science communication, ‘for his dedication to the notion of working scientists being communicators of their work and in particular for his establishment of the Vega Science Trust whose films and related activities reflect the excitement of scientific discovery to the public’. The Vega Science Trust (http://www.vega.org.uk/) produced over 280 programmes until its closure in 2015; however, in 2006, Harry was the driving force behind the formation of GEOSET (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/geoset/), which provides ‘a free resource of educational material’ and remains operative.
Harry was President of the RSC from 2002 to 2004 and he used the opportunities provided by this office in many ways, notably to extend and enhance his communication of scientific ideas. During and following my time as RSC President (2008–2010), I met Harry on several occasions and learned a great deal from his passion and enthusiasm together with his willingness to become involved in a wide variety of activities to broadcast the fun, beauty and relevance of science. Two of my personal interactions with Harry are provided as illustrations of these qualities.
The first arose due to my involvement with the Inorganic Biochemistry Discussion Group of the RSC in the late 1970s. Dr Roger Thorneley, of the Agricultural Research Council's Unit of Nitrogen Fixation then at the University of Sussex, UK, played a leading role in this group and invited Harry to produce a suitable logo. The result was an elegant design in which the letters i-b-d-g are integrated into a flower motif that can also be interpreted as a central transition metal ion with p- and d-orbitals.
The second arose in 2003 when, on behalf of the RSC as the then President of its Dalton Division, I was involved in the organization of two events in which Harry played the central role. These took place in Manchester, UK, and were initiated by the need to engage a distinguished scientist to present the Dalton Lecture for that year. This lecture, jointly sponsored by the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (MLPS) and the RSC, would celebrate the bicentenary of the MLPS's publication of John Dalton's notable paper ‘On the absorption of gases by water and other liquids’. This publication included his law of partial pressures (Dalton's law) and table of the relative weights of ultimate particles of bodies, a prelude to his atomic theory. After due consultation, the RSC nominated Harry and this was welcomed by the MLPS since, in 1997, Harry became only the 10th recipient of their prestigious Dalton Medal. When I approached Harry, he agreed to present the lecture on condition that, ‘prior to the event, he could conduct a science workshop to demonstrate the relationship between the modern football and C60 to school children at an appropriate location in Manchester’. I agreed to his conditions without knowing how this could be organized! However, I was fortunate in that a colleague, Prof. John Leach of Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), made me aware of Dr Les Kershaw, then Chief Scout at Manchester United's Football Academy, who had previously been an academic chemist at MMU. The outcome was a very successful workshop conducted by Harry with the support of Dr Kershaw (http://www.rsc.org/AboutUs/News/PressReleases/2005/LesKershaw.asp), the cooperation of Sir Alex Ferguson and the active participation of some of the club's first team and academy players. Several hundred local children constructed giant plastic buckyballs, thus learning about the nature of C60 and becoming aware of its existence and scientific significance (http://www.vega.org.uk/video/programme/175). Subsequent to this event, Harry unveiled a blue plaque commemorating John Dalton's contributions to the development of modern atomic theory and presented the 2003 Dalton Lecture entitled ‘2010, A Nanospace Odyssey’ in Manchester Town Hall (https://www.manlitphil.ac.uk/news/professor-sir-harry-kroto).
This theme issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A originates from the 2-day symposium held on 15 and 16 July 2015, organized by the RSC and the Royal Society, entitled ‘Fullerenes: past, present and future, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Buckminster Fullerene’. I thank both the speakers at this symposium and other colleagues of Harry who have contributed to this theme issue, which provides a clear testimony to the significant impact of the research accomplished by Harry Kroto and the considerable influence generated by his scientific vision and enthusiasm. Harry was an inspirational and influential presence throughout this meeting. Although the effects of the motor neuron disease with which he was diagnosed in 2014 were obvious in his restricted mobility, his intellectual contributions, scientific curiosity and optimism were, as ever, clearly manifest.
No appreciation of the scientific contributions and influence of Harry would be complete without recognizing the major role played by his wife, Margaret, in these activities. In particular, by planning and organizing the considerable commitments that followed from Harry's enthusiasm to convey his scientific message and his willingness to travel to all parts of the globe, as well as by accompanying him on so many of his journeys, Margaret ensured that the scientific community worldwide derived great benefit from Harry's presence, knowledge, vision and enthusiasm. I and my colleagues send our condolences to her and their two sons, Stephen and David, for their, and our, significant loss.
One contribution of 12 to a theme issue ‘Fullerenes: past, present and future, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Buckminster Fullerene’.
- Accepted June 21, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.