Sir Harold Walter Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996

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Sir Harold Walter Kroto (Krotoschiner), Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996

Also Known As: "Harry"
Birthdate: (76)
Birthplace: Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, UK
Death: April 30, 2016 (76)
Immediate Family:

Son of Heinz Fritz Kroto and Edith Kathe Dora Kroto
Husband of <private> Kroto (Hunter)
Father of <private> Kroto and <private> Kroto

Occupation: Professor of organic chemistry, Nobel Laureate (Chemistry, 1966)
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Sir Harold Walter Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996

Sir Harold (Harry) Walter Kroto, FRS (born 7 October 1939), born Harold Walter Krotoschiner, is a British chemist and one of the three recipients to share the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley.

He 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 holds an emeritus professorship.

Early years

Kroto was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England, to Edith and Heinz Krotoschiner, with his 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 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. 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.

Although raised Jewish, he has stated that religion never made any sense to him. He is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.


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 towards quantum chemistry; he later developed an interest in astrochemistry.

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 the interstellar medium. 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 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 National Laboratory). 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 280 plus programmes of which 50 have been broadcast on BBC TV. All programmes stream for free from the Vega website which acts as a TV science channel. The website which is accessed by over 165 countries is designed by Harry Kroto and shows his other main interest - graphic design.

From 2002-2004 he served as President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Since 2004 he has held the Francis Eppes Professorship in the chemistry department at Florida State University and presently carries out research in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Personal life

Kroto calls himself a devout atheist.

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

On 15 September 2010, Kroto, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter published in The Guardian, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK.

Honours and awards

Kroto was made a Knight Bachelor in the 1996 New Year's Honours list .

Kroto is a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Engineering, as well as of the Board of Scientific Governors at The Scripps Research Institute. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University in 2011.

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Sir Harold Walter Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996's Timeline

October 7, 1939
Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, UK
April 30, 2016
Age 76