University opens ‘Kroto Schools’ Lab’ in memory of Nobel Prize winning alumnus

The entrance to the Kroto Schools LabWe are delighted that Alumni donations have contributed to this refurbishment to enable undergraduate students, as well as the hundreds of school children and young people who visit the Department every year, to enjoy the best possible experience in a dedicated teaching space. This revitalised lab will allow the University to bring school children into the Department to learn about science in an engaging environment, continuing an area of work Sir Harry was so fiercely passionate about.

As well as being an eminent chemist, Sir Harry delighted in sharing his passion for science with a young audience, and would return to the University every year to lead a session with local school children, teaching them about the structure of Buckminsterfullerene, the third form of carbon, for which he won his Nobel Prize in 1996.

In 2016, Lady Margaret Kroto, a Sheffield alumna herself (BA Economics 1962), made a generous donation to create the Kroto Family Education Foundation. The Foundation builds on Sir Harry's incredible legacy by continuing to give the public, especially young people, the chance to learn about his 'Buckyball’ discovery in this laboratory. The Foundation supports science education, particularly in workshops that explore the structure of the Nobel Prize winning molecule C60, Buckminsterfullerene demonstrating the thrill and satisfaction of science, and sparking an ongoing interest.

Guest being shown the Kroto Schools Lab and experiments school children try Guest being shown the Kroto Schools Lab and experiments school children try

At a small reception today, guests were welcomed to open the new lab and take a tour of the space by, Professor Peter Styring, Professor of Chemical Engineering & Chemistry, Professor of Public Engagement and Head of the Department of Chemistry, himself a close friend of Sir Harry. In attendance were Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, Vice-President and Head of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health, Research Theme Leaders from the Kroto Research Institute, Professional Services Colleagues from Research Services, Outreach & DARE and researchers from across the University.

Sadly, Lady Margaret was unable to join in the celebrations but sent this message about the lab and her and Sir Harry’s legacy:

"I am very disappointed that I am unable to be with you on this very special occasion, but I will be following from a distance and of course the most important thing is that this wonderful facility will help to achieve Harry's vision of giving young people the opportunity to explore science in an exciting and 'hands on' way. Harry was a communicator and an inspiration to young people and I cannot think of a more fitting tribute. He would have felt deeply honoured."

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, remembered Sir Harry saying:

“Harry was a tremendous friend of the University of Sheffield, who was an exceptional force good in the world of science, both at the cutting edge of atomic structure and nanotechnology, as well as introducing children to the joy science can bring. Sheffield is immensely proud of what he achieved in his life, and we are proud to continue his legacy of sharing science to people of all ages.”

In addition to the opening, tomorrow the annual Kroto Research Inspiration researcher showcase takes place, which celebrates the creative communication of research by our own innovative researcher community.

For more details about the Krotos’ inspirational legacy, please visit the Kroto Research Inspiration web pages

To find out more about how the Department of Chemistry works with schools please visit the Kroto Schools Laboratory web page.

The new and improved undergraduate chemistry lab

Professor Sir Harry Kroto, FRS

Professor Sir Harry Kroto, FRSHarry, as he was known, was born on 7 October 1939 and raised in Bolton before coming to Sheffield on the recommendation of his sixth form chemistry teacher. He joined the University in 1958 to study chemistry, but also explored his passion for design when he took up a position as the art editor of Arrows, the University’s arts magazine. On completion of his undergraduate degree, he then went on to complete a PhD, focussing on molecular spectroscopy, an area he continued to work on throughout his life. In his final year he was President of the Athletics Council after three years of playing first team tennis. It was also during this year that he married Margaret while the couple were both studying at the University.

After his PhD, Sir Harry completed post-doctoral work in Canada and the United States, before moving to the University of Sussex to continue his research, where he became Professor of Chemistry in 1985. It was around this time that he had been conducting research into allotropes – different atomic structures – of carbon. This work, which was first published in Nature in 1985, revealed the discovery of a third form of carbon (alongside diamond and graphite) which he named ‘Buckminsterfullerene’, and which won him the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he shared with Professors Robert Curl Jr. and Richard Smalley. In recognition of his contribution to science he was knighted in 1996.

Sir Harry continued his research and teaching at Sussex for several years, before going back to the United States to work at Florida State University, continuing to investigate carbon vapour (the means by which Buckminsterfullerene forms) and the implications of the molecule for chemistry, material science, and nanotechnology. The University of Sheffield awarded Sir Harry an Honorary Doctorate of Science in 1995 in recognition of his achievements, and has since named two buildings after him: the Kroto Innovation Centre and the Kroto Research Institute.

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