Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Harry Kroto’s legacy interview

To be a scientist, you have to be resilient like a punching ball

When Euroscientist met with Nobel Laureate Harold Kroto in June 2015 at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, he was sitting in a wheel chair, next to his wife Margaret. Kroto suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease; the same condition which affects Stephen Hawking, as Kroto light-heartedly used to say in his last months. Complications of this disease led to his death on 30th April 2016. He was 76.

The British scientist shared the 1996 Chemistry Nobel Prize with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley for their discovery of the football-shaped molecules called fullerenes, because of an art-magazine right in front of him at the time of discovery, as he explains in this exclusive interview. Few weeks before, he had left the United States to go back to his native England, where he was born in 1939 to two German refugees.

Taking about his youth, he recalls being a brilliant and very versatile student, “The reports said I was tireless,” he told EuroScientist. His interests spanned from Geography, to Math and English writing. “people tell me I write well, with a sense of humour,” he confesses – drawing, music, and also sports, especially tennis. He jokingly admits, “I wanted to be a Wimbledon champion but I kept being beaten.”

He has a rather unconventional suggestion for young students: “I think it’s important for students to keep your options open, not to be focussed.”

And for chemistry, he said he did not have a passion, but rather a “ration”, a rational passion. “It was part of my life, and I never felt I was anything special,” he said humbly.

He, however, admits that, “In order to be a scientist, you have to be resilient like a punching ball, that comes back and hits you.” But his curiosity is what kept him trying even though “four out of five things I did, did not work.”

And he concludes with a monition that can be considered his legacy: “The universe is so beautiful – it’s just a pity that people are prepared to make weapons out of scientific discoveries.”

Interview by Luca Tancredi Barone

Featured image credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

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