31 October 2017

Kroto Schools Laboratory opens in Sir Harry's memory

Our dedicated schools laboratory has been officially reopened as the Kroto Schools Laboratory, thanks to generous donations from the University of Sheffield's alumni community.

Visitors at the opening of the Kroto Schools Laboratory

The new name pays tribute to Professor Sir Harry Kroto, who did his undergraduate degree and PhD here in the Department of Chemistry before winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for his discovery of Buckminsterfullerene.

This revitalised lab will allow us to continue to bring schoolchildren into the department to do scientific experiments they wouldn't normally be able to do. The adjacent undergraduate lab has also been refurbished.

As well as being an eminent chemist, Sir Harry delighted in sharing his passion for science with a young audience. Before his death in 2016, he would return to Sheffield every year to teach local schoolchildren about the structure of Buckminsterfullerene in 'Buckyball workshops'.

His widow, Lady Margaret Kroto, a Sheffield alumna herself (BA Economics 1962), has also 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 Nobel Prize-winning discovery.

At the launch of the new schools lab, guests were welcomed to by our Head of Department, Professor Peter Styring, himself a close friend of Sir Harry. Attendees included Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, Vice-President and Head of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health, Research Theme Leaders from the Kroto Research Institute, researchers from across the University and friends of Sir Harry.

Lady Margaret was unable to join in the celebrations but sent a message to those in attendance:


"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."

Lady Margaret Kroto

Sheffield alumna and wife of Sir Harry Kroto


Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, also made a few words. 


"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."

Sir Keith Burnett

President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield


Professor Sir Harry Kroto, FRS

Sir Harry Kroto 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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