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Kroto, Sir Harold W

spectroscopy carbon curl design

(1939–) British chemist: co-discoverer of a novel group of carbon molecules, the fullerenes.

Kroto, the child of pre-Second World War escapees from Germany, grew up in Bolton, Lancashire, where his father set up a business making and decorating toy balloons. Young Kroto’s interests were in art and design and in the sciences, and his later work involved some fusion of all these interests.

Graduation in science at Sheffield, followed by work in spectroscopy there and in Ottawa, led to a lectureship in the young University of Sussex by 1970. Using microwave spectroscopy, he studied the molecules present in stellar atmospheres, and found that some had long carbon chains. This caused him in 1985 to work with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley, both at Rice University, Houston, TX; the latter had developed a laser device to vaporize metals to give a plasma containing clusters of metal atoms.

An account of this work, which led to the discovery of the fullerenes, is given in the panel on the different forms of carbon (p. 208): a discovery which involved contributions from spectroscopy, astronomy, physics, chemistry and artistic design.

Curl, Kroto and Smalley shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1996.

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