Sci + Tech

In Memory of Harold Kroto

Professor Sir Harold Kroto, who has died aged 76, won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, jointly with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley, for their discovery in 1985 of fullerenes, popularly known as “bucky-balls” – new forms of the element carbon in which the atoms are arranged in the form of a ball.

Fullerenes are formed when vaporised carbon condenses in an atmosphere of inert gas and the atoms combine to form clusters of a few up to hundreds of atoms. Cooled down and condensed, the carbon clusters can then be analysed.

Kroto and his colleagues carried out this procedure over 11 days in 1985 and found that clusters of 60 carbon atoms, C60, were the most abundant and stable, suggesting a symmetrical structure. They proposed that C60 was a “truncated icosahedron cage”, a football-shaped polyhedron with 20 hexagonal surfaces and 12 pentagonal surfaces, the same structure as the geodesic dome designed by the American architect R Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 Montreal World Exhibition.”

Click to read more from the obituary in the Guardian.

In honor of Harry Kroto’s passing, Popular Science recently shared the 1991 cover story that explained the accidental discovery of Buckyballs.