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Harold Kroto


Sir Harold Walter Kroto, FRS (born 7 October, 1939) is an English chemist and one of the winners of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

He is currently on faculty at Florida State University, which he joined in 2004, and prior to that he spent a large part of his working career at the University of Sussex, where he holds an emeritus professorship.

Additional recommended knowledge


Early life

He was born, christened Harold Krotoschiner in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England with his unusual name being of Silesian origin. His father's family came from Bojanowo, Poland, and his mother's from Berlin, Germany.

Both his parents were born in Berlin but came to Great Britain in the 1930s as refugees from the Nazis because his father was Jewish.

He was raised in Bolton, Lancashire, England, and attended Bolton School, where he was a contemporary of the highly acclaimed actor Sir Ian McKellen. In 1955, the family name was shortened to Kroto.

As a child, he became fascinated by a Meccano set. Kroto credits Meccano — amongst other things — with developing skills useful in scientific research [1]. He was raised Jewish, but the religion never made any sense to him.

He now claims to have four "religions": humanism, atheism, amnesty-internationalism and humourism. He developed an interest in chemistry, physics, and mathematics in secondary school, and because his sixth form chemistry teacher (Harry Heaney - who subsequently became a University Professor) felt that the University of Sheffield had the best chemistry department in the United Kingdom, he went to Sheffield.

In 1963 he married Margaret Henrietta Hunter, also a student at the University.

Early work

In 1961 he obtained a first class BSc honours degree in chemistry at the University of Sheffield, followed in 1964 by a PhD at the same institution. His doctoral research involved high-resolution electronic spectra of free radicals produced by flash photolysis (breaking of chemical bonds by light).

Among other things such as making the first phosphaalkenes (compounds with carbon phosphorus double bonds), his doctoral studies included some unpublished research on carbon suboxide, O=C=C=C=O, and this led to a general interest in molecules containing chains of carbon atoms with numerous multiple bonds. He started his work with an interest in organic chemistry, but when he learned about spectroscopy it inclined him to quantum chemistry.

After postdoctoral research at the National Research Council in Canada and Bell Laboratories in the USA he began teaching and research at the University of Sussex in England in 1967. He became a full professor in 1985, and a Royal Society Research Professor from 1991 – 2001.

Subsequent work

In the 1970s he launched a research programme at Sussex to look for carbon chains in interstellar space. Earlier studies had detected the molecule cyanoacetylene, H-C≡C-C≡N. Kroto's group searched for spectral evidence of longer similar molecules such as cyanobutadiyne, H-C≡C-C≡C-C≡N and cyanohexatriyne, H-C≡C-C≡C-C≡C-C≡N, and found them from 1975–1978.

Trying to explain them led to the discovery of the C60 molecule. (See buckminsterfullerene.) He heard of laser spectroscopy work being done by Richard Smalley and Robert Curl at Rice University in Texas. He suggested that they should use the Rice apparatus to simulate the carbon chemistry that occurs in the atmosphere of a carbon star.

The experiment carried out in September 1985 not only proved that carbon stars could produce the chains but revealed an amazing, serendipitous result - the existence of the C60 species. The three scientists carried out the work with graduate students Jim Heath (now a full Professor at Caltech), Sean O'Brien (now at Texas Instruments), and Yuan Liu (now at Oak Ridge). The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was shared by Curl, Kroto and Smalley in 1996.

In 1995 he jointly set up the Vega Science Trust a UK educational charity (see to create high quality science films including lectures, interviews with Nobel Laureates, discussion programmes, careers and teaching resources for TV and Internet Broadcast. Vega has produced some 100 plus programmes of which 50 have been broadcast on BBC TV in the late-night slots all programmes stream for freely from the Vega website which acts as .TV science channel. Viewing figures on terrestrial TV vary from 300,000 to 700,000. The website which is accessed by over 165 countries is designed by Harry Kroto and shows his other main interest - graphic design.

He presently carries out research in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

He attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief symposia in 2006 and 2007.

He awarded Richard Strutt the King Edward VI College VIth Form Chemistry Prize 1995.


  1. ^ Kroto Nobel Prize autobiography

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Harold_Kroto". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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