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The University of Bolton honoured the town’s only Nobel Prize winner, Professor Sir Harry Kroto NL FRS, with the unveiling of a specially commissioned bronze bust.
Sir Harry, who died in 2016, was brought up in Bolton and attended Bolton School.
He and his team made a breakthrough that changed the fundamental understanding of chemistry while he was working at the University of Sussex – the discovery of a new carbon (C60) molecule.
These C-60 molecules are known more commonly as Buckminsterfullerene or ‘bucky balls’ and the research led to an entirely new branch of chemistry.
The bronze bust of Sir Harry, who received the Nobel Prize in 1996, was unveiled by his widow Lady Margaret Kroto at a private ceremony at the University’s Science and Technology building in Deane Road in front of invited VIP guests.
Actor Sir Ian McKellen, who was at Bolton School at the same time as Sir Harry, sent a video message which was played at the event.
Sir Ian said: “In 1957 in the Great Hall at Bolton School there was a production of Henry V. I was playing the King and my cousin, the Duke, no less, of York was played by Harry Kroto. I have looked through the text and perhaps this explains why I can’t remember his performance, as the Duke of York doesn’t seem to have any lines! Harry in a non-speaking role? Can that be quite right?
“Harry and I often said how grateful we were that we had been at such a school, which still thrives.
“Now of course Bolton has a university and wonderful that Harry should be remembered there, he is one of Bolton’s greatest sons and a dear man. Never more in his element than when teaching and enthusing young people to take an interest in and understand the chemistry that he adored.
“It is great that he is going to be with you permanently in the shape of a statue and I hope one day to come and have a look at it and plant a kiss.”
The bust was commissioned by the University’s President and Vice Chancellor Professor George E Holmes DL, after former Bolton MP, chemistry lecturer and University of Bolton honorary doctor, Dr Brian Iddon, lobbied that Sir Harry and his discovery should be recognised in the town where he grew up.
The bust was sculpted by Professor Nadey Hakim, an honorary doctor of the University.
Harry’s life story is a fascinating one. His father, Heinz Fritz Krotoschiner, was born in Berlin in 1900, to Jewish parents who were from Poland. Heinz wanted to become a dress designer, but launched a business instead, which involved printing images onto toy balloons.
In 1937, he decided to leave Berlin and headed for the UK, leaving the turmoil of Nazi Germany behind. Two years later, in Hampstead, he married Edith Kathe Worch, who had followed him from Berlin. Heinz was interned as an enemy alien in the Isle of Man during the Second World War.
Their son was born on 7 October 1939 in Wisbech and they changed their family name to Kroto in 1955.
In 1940, they settled in Bolton at 45 Arkwright Street. There, Harry’s father secured an apprenticeship in engineering on his release from internment. After his apprenticeship, Heinz became a toolmaker at a Bolton engineering company then, in 1955, he decided to re-establish his business of printing images on toy balloons, which he ran until 1971 when he retired.
Balloon Kroto Ltd moved from Bolton to Westhoughton in 1956. In June 1972, the business was sold to Phillips Patents of Bury. The family were living in Westhoughton, at 1 Peel Street, when Heinz died on 3 July 1977. Edith died there in 1978.
Harry attended Wolfenden Primary School in Wolfenden Street, Bolton, and proceeded with a scholarship to Bolton School (1947-1958), where he was a contemporary of film and stage actor Sir Ian McKellen; they even appeared in school plays together.