Discoverer of Buckeyball Dies


By Hamilton Waldron

The term “buckyball” and the name “Harry Kroto” may not be household names, but the importance and accomplishments of both live on. A recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Harry Kroto, whose team is credited with discovering the spherical, soccer ball-like structure of carbon atoms nicknamed the buckyball, died April 30, 2015 near Lewes, England. He was 76.

The discovery by Kroto’s team of the spherical carbon molecule and its related class of molecules, the fullerenes, significantly advanced scientific understanding by opening new avenues for research across multiple areas of study.

Dr. Kroto specialized in spectroscopy, a field of science in which the spectrum of light from an object, such as a star, is researched to help identify its chemical composition. Partnered with two American chemists, Kroto worked tirelessly at Rice University in Houston. From there, the three would later receive the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery.

The discovery by Kroto’s team of the spherical carbon molecule and its related class of molecules, fullerenes, has significantly advanced scientific discovery by sparking new lines of inquiry across multiple areas of study. The resulting research has led to numerous developments, from more effective treatments for AIDS and multiple sclerosis to new designs for bulletproof vests.

Hard Work Pays Off

During their time at the Rice University lab, Kroto and his team spent intense periods of days conducting experiments that contributed to the discovery of this carbon molecule — which, unlike graphite or diamonds, was at that time the only known form of the substance.

The molecule in question that the three were able to focus on contained 60 carbon atoms and was highly stable. Once it was assembled into a model, the molecule was something to behold. It resembled the geodesic dome invented by R. Buckminster Fuller, which is prominently featured at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Kissimmee, Florida.

As a tribute to Fuller, the scientists decided to name the molecule buckminsterfullerene, which later led to its earning the nickname “buckyball.”

While the buckyball now enjoys a storied history, its discovery essentially introduced the entire field of nanotechnology.

Chief among Harry Kroto’s contributions to the science world is a rather simple one. As someone who was most passionate about motivating children to learn about science, Kroto recognized the importance of encouraging students’ interest in science for generations to come. Without intrigue, discoveries are more difficult — but thanks to Kroto, there are masses of inspired youths primed to keep discovering.


Discuss how Kroto’s discovery helped spark research in nanotechnology.

Research how the buckyball contributed to improved AIDS treatments.


  • Buckyball
  • Nanotechnology
  • Spectroscopy