Sir Harry Kroto
May 6, 2016
English chemist, Nobel laureate, humanist, CSI Fellow, and all-around admirable human being, Sir Harold Kroto has left those of us who knew him saddened over his death, April 30, 2016, of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Harry (as he wanted to be called) was best known as co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He, Robert Curl, and Richard Smalley discovered carbon 60, a new form wherein 60 carbon atoms form a ball-shaped polyhedron molecule, reminiscent of R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller’s geodesic dome. (Hence the molecules were called “buckyballs” and the related class of molecules were the fullerenes. The most common fullerene molecule is named Buckminsterfullerene.)
Harry said: “To be a scientist is to be fascinated by the Universe, to have the same attitude as that of a child.” What did that consist of? Simply curiosity and openness. Richard Dawkins paid him the high compliment of saying that he had “the curiosity of a child.” He loved children. He and his wife of over a half century, Lady Margaret Kroto, had two of their own, and Harry was constantly involved in giving workshops for children and in supporting his Vega Science Trust, an educational charity, and other endeavors.
Harry never lost his sense of childlike wonder—whether he was working at chemistry, physics, or mathematics, or using his impressive talent as a graphic artist and designer, or engaging in any of his myriad other interests, including music.
I first met this remarkable man when we were fellow presenters at a CSI mini-conference in Tallahassee in October 2011. We had a very engaging conversation: about Buckminster Fuller (with whom I was once fascinated to spend part of an afternoon) and—among other topics—Harry’s invention of a magic trick. We must’ve acted like a couple of kids. I’ll always remember him that way.