Richard Errette Smalley was a notable American chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for the discovery of Buckminsterfullerene, a novel form of carbon. He was the Gene and Norman Hackerman Professor of Chemistry and a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University in the United States and was considered an expert in cluster chemistry and cold ion beam technology. He was born in Ohio in the early 1940s and raised in Kansas City, where he received his first science lessons while sitting on his mother’s knee. Dr. Sara Jane Rhoads, his maternal aunt, was the one who most influenced him to pursue chemistry. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan and his doctorate from Princeton University. In the meanwhile, he worked as a chemist for the Shell Company for a few years. He went on to Chicago University for his post-doctoral work. He enrolled at Rice University in Houston after finishing the term. There, he collaborated with Professors Curl and Kroto, and the three of them were responsible for the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of buckminsterfullerene. He then became a key proponent of nanotechnology and undertook a substantial study into nanotube single-crystal development. In the early 2000s, the Federal Government launched the National Nanotechnology Initiative in part because of him.
Childhood and Adolescence
Richard Errett Smalley was born in a close-knit family with Midwestern values on June 6, 1943, in Akron, Ohio. Frank Dudley Smalley Jr., his father, was a hardworking self-made entrepreneur who was similarly committed to his family. He began his career as a carpenter and went on to become the CEO of many trade periodicals before retiring.
His mother, Esther Virginia (née Rhoads), named him after the English king Richard the Lion-Hearted, but she always addressed him as ‘Mr. President’ because she was a good American. She was a remarkable woman who received her bachelor’s degree while Richard was still in high school.
Edward was the youngest and arguably the most beloved of his parents’ four children. Clayton, Mary Jill, and Linda were the three older siblings. When Richard was three years old, the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri.
He spent hours with his mother in Kansas City gathering single-celled organisms from a local pond and studying them under a microscope. She also taught him how to play the piano, paint, sculpt, and sketch mechanically. He learned to create things and repair mechanical and electronic equipment from his father.
He was accepted to Southwest High School when the time arrived. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 was the most significant event of this time period. Despite the fact that the experience piqued his interest in science, he remained an irregular student.
For the first time, he was introduced to chemistry in 1959. He became a serious student all of a sudden, and he spent a lot of time in the attic, preparing lessons. Chemistry was his primary love, though he enjoyed physics as well.
Dr. Sara Jane Rhoads, his mother’s younger sister, was also a big influence on his subject choice. She was a chemistry professor and one of the first women to hold a full professorship in the United States.
Robert worked in Dr. Rhoads’ laboratory for the summer of 1961, an experience that pushed him closer to chemistry. He graduated from high school in the fall and, on her advice, enrolled in Hope College (in Holland, Michigan) to study chemistry.
After two years at Hope College, Robert Smalley transferred to the University of Michigan, where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1965. He then worked as a chemist at a Shell Chemical Company polypropylene manufacturing plant in Woodbury, where he was assigned to the quality control laboratory.
Smalley gained valuable experience throughout his two years in the laboratory. He was then transferred to the Plastic Technical Center at the same location. He worked on establishing analytical methodologies for various polyolefin characteristics here.
Despite the fact that he enjoyed working at Shell, he quickly realized it was time to begin his Ph.D. studies. As a result, he enrolled at Princeton University in the fall of 1969 and began research on 1,3,5-triazine, a heterocyclic benzene analog, with Elliot R. Bernstein, getting his Ph.D. in 1973.
The Career of Richard
Smalley began working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago in 1973, even before defending his thesis and receiving his Ph.D. He developed a supersonic beam laser spectroscopy here with Donald H. Levy and Lennard Wharton.
Meanwhile, Robert F. Curl of Rice University in Houston had achieved substantial advances in laser spectroscopy. Smalley wanted to work with him now, so after finishing his postdoctoral study, he joined Rice as an Assistant Professor in the summer of 1976.
He set up a laser supersonic cluster beam system here as well, but this time it was modified to use ultraviolet pulsed dye lasers. They could use it to investigate more common compounds like benzene. Smalley was also working on establishing the Rice Quantum Institute, which was created in 1979.
He was named Gene and Norman Hackerman Professor of Chemistry in 1982. Along with teaching, he maintained his research and improved his apparatus.
After years of research, his team discovered a means to vaporize any substance with a pulsed laser aimed into a nozzle in the early 1980s. It could also be used to investigate the properties of nanometer-scale particles, which are made up of a small number of atoms.
Professor Curl was blown away by Smalley’s setup, and the two scientists quickly began using it to work on semiconductors like silicon and germanium. Professor Harold W. Kroto of the University of Sussex was working on astronomical dust created by carbon-rich granules ejected by old stars like R Coronae Borealis at the same time.
Kroto was now curious about the formation of carbon chains, which he had discovered in the dust. He flew to Houston near the end of 1985 after learning about Smalley’s setup.
Curl, Kroto, and Smalley began working together at Rice University. The three scientists began exposing graphite surfaces to laser pulses with the help of their graduate students James Heath, Yuan Liu, and Sean O’Brien.
They did locate the lengthy carbon chains they were hoping for, but they also discovered carbon molecules with 60 and 70 atoms, which was unexpected. C60 was discovered to be more frequent after further investigation. It was a previously unidentified chemical.
As a result, they started looking into it. They discovered that the molecule is one nanometer (one billionth of a meter) in size and that its atomic arrangement resembles two conjoined geodesic domes in just eleven days.
Buckminsterfullerene was named after Buckminster Fuller, the American architect who designed the geodesic dome.
Smalley was appointed Chairman of the Rice Quantum Institute in 1986. He continued to work on nanotechnology at the same time. He was certain that only nanotechnology could solve the world’s most serious challenges, namely the lack of clean energy and water.
In 1990, he was appointed Professor of Physics in Rice’s Department of Physics, a position he held concurrently with that of Professor of Chemistry at the same institution. He also started working on building the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at the same time.
He left his position as Chairman of Rice Quantum Institute in 1996 to become Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, which he held until 2001. He then served as the Director of Rice’s Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory from 2001 to 2005.
Smalley is most known for inventing the laser supersonic cluster beam apparatus and discovering the Buckminsterfullerene (or “buckyballs”), the third allotropic carbon formation. Graphite and diamond were the only two carbon allotropes known at the time.
The finding ushered in a new branch of study known as fullerene chemistry, and it made a substantial contribution to the advancement of nanotechnology. He then became a strong proponent of this technique. In 2003, the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a US federal government program, was founded in part as a result of his efforts.
Achievements & Awards
Richard Smalley shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Curl and Kroto in 1996 for “discovering fullerene.”
He also received multiple additional awards, including the Irving Langmuir Award (1991), the E. O. Lawrence Memorial Award (1992), the APS International Prize for New Materials (1992), the Franklin Medal, The Franklin Institute (1996), and the American Carbon Society Medal (1997).
In 1987, he was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and in 2003, he was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Personal History and Legacy
Richard Smalley married four times in his life. He married Judith Grace Sampieri on May 4, 1968. Chad Richard Smalley, their son, was born on June 8, 1969. In 1978, the couple divorced.
He was married to Mary L. Chapieski from 1980 to 1994.
He married JoNell Chauvin in 1997, and they have a son named Preston Reed Smalley. In 1998, his third marriage came to an end.
Following that, he married Deborah Lynn Sheffield Smalley. He died in 2005, and the pair stayed married. He had two stepdaughters from this marriage: Eva Kluber and Alison Kluber.
Smalley was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. Despite chemotherapy and the progression of his cancer, he continued to promote nanotechnology and testified in support of the National Nanotechnology Initiative before the United States House of Representatives in 2003.
He died of leukemia on October 28, 2005, at the age of 62, at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
The Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology was renamed in the same year as the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST), which he helped to build.
The Smalley-Curl Institute was later amalgamated with the Rice Quantum Institute and is now known as the Smalley-Curl Institute (SCI).
Smalley was named the “Father of Nanotechnology” by the United States Senate in 2015.
Estimated Net worth
Richard is one of the wealthiest physicists and one of the most well-known. Richard Smalley’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.