Sir Harold W. Kroto Biography

Sir Harold Walter Kroto was an English chemist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of buckminsterfullerene. Born in England during the Second World War, Kroto initially faced challenges due to his surname but overcame them to excel in school. He developed a passion for geography, art, woodwork, and gymnastics before eventually gravitating towards chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Kroto pursued his higher education at The University of Sheffield, where he obtained both his BSc and PhD. After completing postdoctoral fellowships in Canada and America, he joined the University of Sussex as a tutorial fellow and eventually became a full professor. Alongside his academic career, Kroto made significant contributions to the field, including creating the first molecules with carbon/phosphorus double bonds and discovering carbon chains in space. In his later years, he dedicated himself to making science accessible to all.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In October Died At Age: 76
  • Family: children: David and Stephen
  • Chemists
  • British Men
  • Died on: April 30, 2016
  • Awards:
    • 1996 – Nobel Prize in Chemistry
    • 2004 – Copley Medal
    • 2001 – Michael Faraday Prize
    • 1994 – EPS Europhysics Prize
    • 1992 – James C. McGroddy Prize for New Materials

Childhood & Early Life

Harold Walter Kroto was born on 7 October 1939 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England. His father, Heinz Krotoschiner, was a Jewish refugee from Berlin, and his family came from Krotoschin (now Krotoszyn) in Poland. Harold’s parents, Heinz and Edith Krotoschiner, ran a small business in Berlin. In 1937, with the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany, Heinz escaped to England, and Edith followed him. They set up a small business in London. During the Second World War, Heinz was interred on the Isle of Man as an enemy alien, and Edith was evacuated to Wisbech, where Harold was born. In 1940, he and his mother were shifted to Bolton, Lancashire. At the end of the war, the family settled down in Bolton and opened a small balloon manufacturing factory with the help of friends.

Education and Career

Harold attended Bolton School, where his surname created some difficulties for him. In 1955, his father changed their surname to Kroto, which was a big relief for Harold. He enjoyed his school life and spent his holidays working at his father’s factory. Chemistry became his favorite subject, and after graduating from school in 1958, he entered the University of Sheffield to study chemistry. Initially interested in organic chemistry, his focus shifted to quantum chemistry and spectroscopy. He also participated in extracurricular activities such as tennis, athletics, and playing the guitar. In 1961, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree with first-class honors in chemistry. He continued his studies at the same university and earned his Ph.D. in 1964 with a dissertation titled “The spectra of unstable molecules under high resolution.”

Career and Discoveries

After completing his Ph.D., Harold began his career as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada. He then worked at the Bell Laboratory in New York, U.S.A. In 1967, he returned to England and joined the faculty of the School of Chemistry & Molecular Sciences at the University of Sussex. In 1974, he obtained his own spectrometer and started studying carbon chain species HC5N, which eventually led to his discovery of C60, also known as buckminsterfullerene. This discovery earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996. He continued his research and education efforts, founding the Vega Science Trust in 1995 and the Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology (GEOSET) in 2006.

Major Works and Awards

Harold Kroto is best known for his discovery of buckminsterfullerene, a carbon molecule with 60 atoms arranged in a symmetrical hollow structure resembling a sphere. This discovery earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996. He received several other awards and honors throughout his career, including the International Prize for New Materials, the Italgas Prize for Innovation in Chemistry, the Carbon Medal, the Faraday Award, and the Copley Medal. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Personal Life and Legacy

In 1963, Harold Kroto married Margaret Henrietta Hunter, and they had two sons together. He was a lover of film, theatre, music, and art and had produced and published many artworks and graphic designs. He was an atheist and a patron of the British Humanist Association. In his later years, he developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and passed away on 30 April 2016 in Lewes, East Sussex, England.

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