MURFREESBORO — MTSU has the distinction of having internationally recognized chemist Harry Kroto as the first featured guest lecturer in the new Science Building, which opened this summer but celebrated a grand opening Oct. 15.
Kroto, a native of England, is a 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipient and member of the Florida State University faculty since 2004. Kroto shared the 1996 Nobel Prize with Robert F. Curl Jr. and Richard E. Smalley for their discovery of fullerenes, a series of carbon molecules, also known as “buckminsterfullerenes.”
Kroto will be appearing at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20, in Science Building Amphitheater Room 1006 on the first floor. The event is free and open to the public. His talk is titled “Carbon in Nano and Outer Space.” A printable campus map can be found at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap14-15.
Visiting Middle Tennessee for the American Chemical Society’s annual Southeastern Regional meeting Oct. 16-19, Kroto will be appearing and speaking at both events at the invitation of MTSU chemistry professor Preston MacDougall.
“In 2008, we invited Robert Grubbs, also a Nobel Laureate, so I was aiming high,” said MacDougall, who is a member of the local organizing committee for the regional meeting. “I contacted Harry Kroto to ask if he would be our (American Chemical Society) speaker. He accepted. At that time, there were no plans for him to come to MTSU.”
In April, Kroto was a banquet speaker at a Dallas conference on molecular structure and dynamics that MacDougall attended and also was a guest speaker.
“I got to know Harry and his wife, Margaret, at this time,” MacDougall said. “They have a very strong passion for promoting science literacy, and involving young people in both doing science and promoting it among their peers via social media.”
Knowing this, MacDougall thought the Krotos would want to visit the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, where Tara MacDougall, the MTSU faculty member’s wife, serves as CEO, during their trip to Nashville.
“They were indeed eager to do so,” said Preston MacDougall. “When it became clear the new Science Building would open earlier than expected, I made the suggestion that he give a public lecture on science as a wonderful means of celebrating the new building and drawing the community’s attention to this great new facility. Again, I was delighted when he accepted and was honored to have this privilege.”
Kroto said his original suggestion of the experiment in 1985 was based on about 11 years of laboratory work and radioastronomy (1974-85).
According to Kroto’s Florida State bio, the fullerene molecule consists of 60 carbon atoms arranged as a spheroid, in a pattern exactly matching the stitching on soccer balls. The configuration reminded Kroto of the geodesic domes designed by the late inventor/architect Buckminster Fuller, hence the name “buckminsterfullerines.”
When asked how life has been since receiving the Nobel Prize, Kroto said, "far more to do and very rewarding in talking to young scientists."
Department of Chemistry Chair Greg Van Patten said Kroto spends some
time now in supporting the distribution of science education materials.
Forced to retire after 37 years at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, Kroto landed in Tallahassee, Florida, because “FSU was the most keen to get me and support my education program," he said.
The program is called GEOSET or Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology. To learn more, visit www.geoset.info.
As for current research endeavors, Kroto said he is “working in nanotechnology metal organic framework systems and carbon cluster science” mainly at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at FSU. To learn more, visit http://www.magnet.fsu.edu.
Every fall, he hosts the annual “Open Minds” — a series of seven lectures to help spur creativity and scientific experimentation within FSU and surrounding community.