Nobel Prize winner Sir Harold Kroto to speak on NU's Boston campus

Carbon in Nano and Outer Space

The Nobel Prize was the result of curiosity about the chemistry in the atmosphere of an old red giant star about a light year in diameter. The research resulted in advances in technology at nanometer scale, a million, million, million, million times smaller.

The element carbon has played a role in almost every aspect of the development of understanding in the physical and natural sciences. The last 30 years saw the discovery of C60, Buckminsterfullerene, the third well-defined form of carbon – the other two being graphite and diamond – and the re-discovery of carbon nanotubes. These forms of carbon promise paradigm shifting advances in materials engineering and catalyzed the birth of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

The 1985 serendipitous discovery of “fullerenes” came about from experiments at Rice University for studying star clusters. Research on carbon chain molecules began at Sussex in the mid-1970’s, and led to the detection of these chains in interstellar space and in red giant stars. More recently, the tell-tale fingerprint signature of C60 was found in 2010 in infrared spectra obtained by NASA’s Spitzer satellite telescope.


This sequence of events is an example of the remarkable way in which fundamental science, in this case the fascination with space, led to major breakthroughs with important implications for innovative technological applications on Earth.

The history of scientific progress, however, also carries a serious warning for those who think that fundamental science can be steered by bureaucratic decision-making.

Bio: Sir Harold Kroto, FRS is the English chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley. Kroto is the Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry at the Florida State University, which he joined in 2004. Prior to that, he spent a large part of his career at the University of Sussex, where he now holds an emeritus professorship.