A Nobel prize winning scientist who taught at FSU has died.
Sir Harold Kroto’s contribution to chemistry was so significant, he was even knighted by the Queen of England.
Kroto’s colleagues here and across the globe are mourning his passing.
They remember not only his remarkable discovery, but a man perhaps whose greatest passion was teaching young scientists.
We pulled this video out of archive. 2004. Sir Harold Kroto teaching Tallahassee fourth graders about his most famous discovery.
A carbon molecule called a ‘buckyball.’ Its mix of pentagons and hexagons opened up new worlds in chemistry and created the prospect of new materials of lightweight and great strength.
“It means that you can build airplanes so light that if the engines fail that it would just glide. You could build cars or vehicles so strong that if there’s an accident it won’t break up,” Kroto said in that 2004 interview.
FSU announced Monday evening that the 1996 Nobel PrIze winner had died at the age of 76.
“He was just inspirational. I mean people came here because he was here,” said Dr. Alan Marshall, FSU’s Robert O. Lawton Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Friend and colleague Dr. Alan Marshall was one of the chemists who recruited Kroto to come to FSU in 2004. He still marvels at the impact of Kroto’s discovery.
“The impact of that is hard to exaggerate. A couple of years after the buckyball, nine of the ten most cited papers in chemistry were on buckyball,” Marshall said. “There was that much of excitement … because there were only two kinds of carbon – diamonds and graphite and nobody thought there was a third one, so it just shook everybody up.”
FSU’s President called Kroto “a brilliant scholar” who mentored students, collaborated with faculty and elevated the stature of Florida State.
Marshall can’t help but laugh when he recalls Kroto describing the day he was knighted by the Queen of his native England.
“When he first got in (to the Royal Society and he signed the log book and he noticed that the first guy in the log book … was Isaac Newton. That was sort of a treat,” Marshall said.
Marshall said Kroto’s discovery has led to materials that are already being used to make the bodies of cars and planes stronger.
“So if we get on an airplane, for instance, some of Dr. Kroto’s work might be flying with us?”
Dr. Marshall says Kroto died of ALS, but continued to write papers and attend conferences even in the final months of his life. Sir Harold Kroto was 76 years old.
FSU Press Release May 2, 2016
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY MOURNS LOSS OF NOBEL LAUREATE SIR HAROLD KROTO
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida State University community is mourning the loss of a scientific giant, Professor and Nobel Laureate Sir Harold Kroto.
Kroto died Saturday at the age of 76.
“Florida State University has lost a beloved member of its family with the passing of Sir Harry Kroto,” said President John Thrasher. “Sir Harry was a brilliant scholar and an even better man who was generous with his time and expertise in mentoring our students, collaborating with faculty and elevating the stature of this university. Our hearts are heavy, but we are forever richer because of his contributions to Florida State, the scientific community and the world.”
Kroto — a world-class chemist, teacher, mentor, friend and sometimes graphic designer —joined the Florida State University faculty in 2004, capping off a brilliant career that included the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the Buckminsterfullerene molecule.
The discovery of Buckminsterfullerene, otherwise known as buckyballs, opened up a new world of chemistry. Just last year, researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland discovered that these molecules were part of a cloud of gas floating between stars. Kroto had made that prediction years ago, but scientists only recently were able to adequately create the conditions in a lab to confirm that.
It also led to the development of new materials such as buckypaper, a feather-light material that is being tested in electronics, energy, medicine, space and transportation. Though it is light, it is also remarkably strong. The aviation industry, for example, projects that it could replace metal shielding in the Boeing 787, currently made up of 60 miles of cable.
Kroto was born in Wisbech, England after his parents fled Nazi Germany as refugees. He developed an early interest in both chemistry and physics and went to the University of Sheffield in 1958, obtaining first a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and then a doctorate in molecular spectroscopy.
In 1967, he began teaching at the University of Sussex in England, where his research focused on spectroscopic studies of new and novel unstable species. His 1985 discovery of buckyballs shifted his research from spectroscopy to probe the consequences and possibilities associated with this new molecule.
In 2004, he accepted the position of Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry at FSU, where he continued his work on buckyballs and mentored several students and younger faculty.
Tim Logan, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, noted that Kroto was exceptionally generous with his time and inspired countless students.
“Harry had time for everyone,” Logan said. “He treated everyone the same — from undergraduate to graduate student, from faculty to staff, whether you were a big-time administrator or politician or were anonymous in a crowd of two — he would engage you in conversation. But of all the people he met, I think he most enjoyed spending time with very young students through his many speaking engagements and working with older students through his GEOSET studios.”
In addition to his research agenda, he was fiercely dedicated to expanding educational opportunities. In 1995, he set up the Vega Science Trust, a British educational charity to create high quality science programming that included interviews with Nobel laureates, plus teaching resources for television and the Internet.
At Florida State, he spearheaded the development of GEOSET, short for Global Educational Outreach for Science, Engineering and Technology. GEOSET is a growing online cache of video teaching modules that are available for free.
He also developed several unique programs for Florida State, hosting an annual “Opening Minds” lecture series in the fall semester to help spur creativity and scientific experimentation within the university and surrounding community.
“I think he’s the greatest human being I’ve ever known,” said Mark Riley, the Robert O. Lawton distinguished professor of physics and a close friend of Kroto. “His never-ending desire to educate the whole world was just amazing. He knew that education is the answer, and that’s why he built GEOSET and the Vega websites. He wanted to educate the world.”
FSU Provost Sally McRorie added that though his FSU family missed him greatly, the university was incredibly fortunate to have him.
“Who grows up thinking that they will meet one of the greatest scientists and thinkers of their time? We at FSU were so fortunate to have Sir Harry Kroto among us,” McRorie said. “His engaging questions about everything and the learning he inspired for all ages were paired with the most profoundly caring and generous heart that anyone might imagine. We mourn his loss, and celebrate his amazing life and our great fortune to have been a part of it.”
Kroto is survived by his wife Margaret and sons Stephen and David.