Nobel Laureate Speaks to Classes, Leads Symposium

Posted 10/01/05
First-year chemistry students will have the opportunity to spend some time with a Nobel Laureate at Wesleyan.

Sir Harry Kroto, professor of chemistry at Florida State University, will lecture to chemistry classes at 9 a.m. Oct. 31 in room 84 of Hall-Atwater. Kroto shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996 for discovering C60, a new form of carbon.

In addition, Kroto will present a chemistry symposium titled “Architecture in Nanospace,” at 4 p.m. Oct. 31, also in HA 84, or Exley Science Center 150 if attendance requires it. This symposium will be open to the public.

Formerly a professor at the University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom, Sir Harry has studied carbon chains in space, was a pioneer in the spectroscopic study of molecules with multiple bonds between carbon and phosphorus, and, in his Nobel Prize winning work, discovered and new form of elemental carbon.

“I never dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize,” Kroto wrote in his Nobel-related biography. “Indeed I was very happy with my scientific work prior to the discovery of C60 … and even if I did not do anything else as significant I would have felt quite successful as a scientist.”

Stewart Novick, professor of chemistry, invited Kroto to speak at Wesleyan. They first met at Wesleyan’s annual Leermakers Symposium in 1992. Novick and David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry, are combining their CHEM 143 and CHEM 141 classes on Oct. 31 so Kroto can lecture to both introductory chemistry classes at once.

Novick considers Kroto to be a world class researcher who is deeply committed to science education.

“It is characteristic of him that, in addition to the cutting-edge research lecture he is presenting in the afternoon, he will take time in the morning to present a more generally accessible talk to some of the newest members of the scientific community, the students in our introductory courses,” Novick says. “Harry is a spellbinding speaker and we are certain that everyone will enjoy his perspectives on one of the most important and astounding chemical discoveries of the last 50 years.”

Krotto shares the Nobel with Robert Curl Jr. and Richard Smalley, both of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The trio made their discovery during a period of eleven days in 1985. When fine-tuning their experiment, they produced clusters with 60 carbon atoms or C60. This symmetrical molecular structure resembled a geodetic dome designed by American architect R. Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 Montreal World Exhibition. Hence, the scholars named their structure ‘buckminsterfullerene’ or ‘fullerene’, for short.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor