Sir Harold Walter Kroto was an English chemist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of buckminsterfullerene. Harold Walter Krotoschiner was born in England to a Jewish refugee from Berlin about a month after World War II broke out. Because of his surname, he had to work extra hard at first to fit in with the other students at school. His father afterwards changed his name to Kroto. Geography, painting, woodwork, and gymnastics were his favorite subjects at school. When he reached A-level, his interests shifted to chemistry, physics, and maths. Ultimately, he majored in chemistry at The University of Sheffield, where he received his BSc and PhD. After a brief spell as a postdoctoral associate in Canada and the United States, he went on to work as a tutorial fellow at the University of Sussex, eventually rising to become a full professor. He worked on several projects at the same time. Prior to his now famous work on buckminsterfullerene, he worked on creating the first compounds with carbon/phosphorus double bonds and identifying carbon chains in space. He worked tirelessly in his later years to bring science to everyone who cared about it.
Childhood and Adolescence
Harold Walter Kroto was born on October 7, 1939, in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England, as Harold Walter Krotoschiner. Heinz Krotoschiner, his father, was a Jewish immigrant from Berlin, but his family was from Krotoschin (now Krotoszyn) in Poland. Krotoschiner is a title derived from the town’s name.
Heinz and Edith Krotoschiner, Harold’s parents, had a small business in Berlin. Heinz Krotoschiner fled to England in 1937, as anti-Semitism grew in Germany. Edith followed in the footsteps of her spouse.
They then established a modest business in London. When WWII broke out, Heinz was interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man, and Edith was moved to Wisbech, where Harold was born. He and his mother were relocated to Bolton, Lancashire, in 1940.
The family relocated to Bolton at the end of the war. They made their home in the city’s poorest neighborhood. They later developed a modest balloon manufacturing facility with the support of friends.
Harrold eventually enrolled in Bolton School, where his surname caused a minor stumbling block and made him feel like an extraterrestrial from another planet. When his father changed their surname to Kroto in 1955, it was a huge relief.
Regardless, he had a good day at school, just like the other kids. Unlike most people, he spent his holidays at his father’s factory, doing everything from replacing workers on the production line to taking bi-annual stock.
Chemistry became his favorite subject over time, and after graduating from high school in 1958, he enrolled at the University of Sheffield to study chemistry.
He was first drawn to organic chemistry. Later on, however, the focus turned to quantum chemistry and spectroscopy. Simultaneously, he played tennis, participated in university athletics, and honed his guitar skills. He also served as the art editor for the students’ magazine, producing the cover and advertising posters, among other things.
Kroto received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry with honors in 1961. Continuing at the same university, he worked on spectroscopy of free radicals created by flash photolysis for his PhD with Richard Dixon, getting his doctorate in 1964. ‘The spectra of unstable molecules under high resolution,’ was the title of his dissertation.
Career of Sir Harold W. Kroto
Harold Kroto began his work at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada, as a postdoctoral researcher in 1964. He discovered a singlet-singlet electronic transition of the NCN radical while working with Don Ramsay on flash photolysis/spectroscopy. Later in 1965, he collaborated with Cec Costain on the rotating spectrum of NCN3.
In 1966, he was hired as a postdoctoral researcher at the Bell Laboratories in New York, New York. He studied on liquid phase interactions using laser Raman spectroscopy alongside Yoh Han Pao here.
In 1967, he returned to England and became a tutorial fellow at the University of Sussex’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Sciences (MOLS). Fortunately, he was quickly promoted to a permanent lecturer.
Kroto’s work on electronic spectroscopy of gas phase free radicals and rotational microwave spectroscopy was finished by 1970. He also constructed He-Ne and argon ion lasers to explore intermolecular interactions in liquids and performed theoretical calculations with them.
Kroto ultimately acquired his own spectrometer in 1974, after much bargaining. Previously, the team had to travel to Reading on a monthly basis to do so. They began exploring carbon chain species HC5N now that they had their own spectrometer in Sussex. His discovery of C60 more than ten years later was based on this effort.
Kroto began working on long linear carbon chain molecules with David Walton, also of the University of Sussex, in 1975. Canadian astronomers have now discovered that odd carbonaceous species can be found in vast quantities both in interstellar space and in carbon-rich red giant stars.
He began seeking for a laser vaporizing apparatus in order to examine how these chains are created. He then contacted Rice University’s Professor Robert F. Curl, who informed him that his colleague Richard E. Smalley had one.
As a result, in 1985, Kroto joined them at Rice, where they discovered a carbon molecule with 60 atoms, which they dubbed buckminsterfullerene. The research resulted in the discovery of a novel carbon allotrope known as a fullerene.
When he got back to Sussex, he started thinking about the implications of his discoveries. Simultaneously, he began focusing on educating the general public about scientific findings, and in 1995, he founded the Vega Science Trust, a non-profit organization, to do so.
In 2004, he left the University of Sussex to join Florida State University as the Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry. He continued his research on fullerene astrochemistry in stellar space here.
Later, he worked on carbon vapor with Allan Marshal and on open framework condensed phase systems and nano-structured systems with Naresh Dalal of FSU and Tony Cheetham of Cambridge. At the same time, he continued to work on numerous projects aimed at educating the general public.
Kroto established Global Educational Outreach for Science, Engineering, and Technology in 2006. (GEOSET). Its main website hosts an ever-growing library of recorded training modules that educators and the general public can freely download.
Major Projects of Sir Harold W. Kroto
Kroto is well known for his work with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley on the discovery of buckminsterfullerene. In a helium atmosphere, they evaporated graphite. This resulted in a cluster of carbon molecules, the majority of which had 60 atoms. They then turned their attention to the C60 molecules. Finally, they discovered that the atoms are bound together in a sphere-like symmetrical hollow shape. Kroto, who was interested in graphic art, named it buckminsterfullerene after R. Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, since the molecules reminded him of Fuller’s geodesic dome.
Achievements & Awards
Kroto, along with Robert F. Curl Junior and Richard E. Smalley, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for “discovering fullerenes.”
International New Materials Prize He has also received honors from the American Physical Society (1992), the Italgas Prize for Innovation in Chemistry (1992), the Carbon Medal (1997), the Faraday Award (2001), and the Copley Medal (2002).
Kroto was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990.
He was named a Knight Bachelor in the 1996 New Year Honor List.
Personal History and Legacy
Harold Kroto married Margaret Henrietta Hunter, who was also a student at the University of Sheffield, in 1963 while working on his PhD. Stephen and David were the couple’s two sons.
He was also a film, theater, music, and art buff. He had created and published numerous works of art and graphic designs for which he had won numerous honors and awards.
He was an atheist and patron of the British Humanist Association, which advocates “those who aspire to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs.”
Kroto suffered amyotrophic lateral sclerosis near the end of his life. He died on April 30, 2016, in Lewes, East Sussex, England, following complications related to the disease.
Kroto believed that if he had been given the correct instruction, he would have pursued a career in architecture, which would have merged his interests in art and science. Unfortunately, there was no broad career advice accessible at the time.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated Net Worth of Sir Harold W. Kroto is unknown.