Professor Sir Harry Kroto dies

Posted on Tuesday 3rd May 2016

Nobel prize winner Professor Sir Harry Kroto has died, age 76. 

Prof Kroto, who received an honorary doctorate from the University in 2010, was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, jointly with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley. In 1985 they discovered fullerenes, popularly known as ‘bucky-balls’ – new forms of the element carbon in which the atoms are arranged in the form of a ball. 

The researchers named the newly discovered structure ‘buckminsterfullerene’. Until this discovery, there were only two known forms of pure carbon: graphite and diamond.

Harold Walter Kroto was born on 7 October 1939 at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, where his mother had been evacuated on the outbreak of war. They then moved to Bolton in 1940.

Harry Kroto was educated at Bolton Grammar School, where, at first, he particularly enjoyed geography, gymnastics, woodwork and art, showing a particular talent for graphic design. Notably he played the Duke of York to Sir Ian McKellen’s Henry V in the school play. By A-level, however, he had gravitated towards chemistry, physics and maths and applied to study chemistry at Sheffield University. There he completed a BSc in chemistry, and then a PhD in molecular spectroscopy.

On completing his PhD in 1964 he moved to Canada and took up a postdoctoral position at the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa to undertake spectroscopy research. Then, in 1966, he went to Bell Labs to study liquid phase reactions using Raman spectroscopy. He soon moved back to the UK to take up a postdoctoral position, and later a permanent lectureship at the University of Sussex.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1990 and won numerous awards including the Longstaff Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1993, the Michael Faraday prize in 2001 and the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 2004. He was knighted in 1996. 

Harry Kroto married Margaret Hunter in 1963, who survives him with their two sons.