Kroto, along with Richard Smalley and Robert Curl, garnered the Nobel Prize for their discovery of buckminsterfullerene—a soccer-ball-shaped molecule of 60 carbon atoms also known as a buckyball. The discovery was greeted with both enthusiasm and skepticism, noted the Nobel Prize committee when announcing the 1996 prize: “No physicist or chemist had expected that carbon would be found in such a symmetrical form other than those already known.”
For Kroto, who was a chemistry professor at the University of Sussex at the time, the finding proved to be a diversion. “The discovery of C60 in 1985 caused me to shelve my dream of setting up a studio specializing in scientific graphic design,” he wrote in his Nobel Prize autobiography. “That was the downside of our discovery.”
Kroto devoted much of his time to fostering the public’s understanding of science. In 1995 he helped establish the Vega Science Trust, a television and Internet video series with the goal of providing “a brightly lit platform for scientists to communicate with an authentic voice directly to the public, without media interference, on topics that excite them and on issues that concern them,” he told C&EN in an interview in 2002. Later, Kroto initiated the Global Educational Outreach for Science, Engineering & Technology, or GEOSET, which is a collection of freely accessible online educational material.
“Harry very much became the embodiment of the hopes of Alfred Nobel, with a better, more peaceful world being brought about through the dissemination of science,” says Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt, a chemistry professor at Florida State University, where Kroto moved in 2004. “He had very high ideals, and challenged everyone he engaged to discover what their own ideals are, and to become better people.”
“My advice is to do something which interests you or which you enjoy,” Kroto wrote in his Nobel autobiography, “and do it to the absolute best of your ability. If it interests you, however mundane it might seem on the surface, still explore it because something unexpected often turns up just when you least expect it. With this recipe, whatever your limitations, you will almost certainly still do better than anyone else.”