Friday, July 9, 2010

Sir Harry Kroto: the Bucky Ball Fame

Next Sir Harry Kroto (Bucky ball fame) took to the stage - if someone has never seen him talk he really should! Sir Harry Kroto won the Nobel Prize for discovering the soccer-ball-shaped fullerenes, strangely-structured carbon molecules also known as bucky balls. These molecules led to the development of carbon nanotubes and the burgeoning field of nanoscience. My favorite quote of his was – ‘if no-one finds a use for C60 soon, I’ll have to give my Nobel Prize back’.

One of the star speakers at the 59th Lindau Nobel meetings, Kroto had the audience in raptures while talking about ‘Science, Society and Sustainability’. In dozens of slides full of pictures, data, graphics and animation, in which his exposition of chemistry took just about 45 or 60 seconds, his talk epitomized how science has to be made attractive to be appealing to lure young students.

Describing his early days, when the first award of his life came from designing a book jacket, rather than science, Kroto entertained some 600 people in the audience, convincing them that merely doing Nobel-class science is not enough. “Remember humanity and forget the rest.” He began by recounting the influences that ultimately made him become a scientist, and briefly compared his career path with that of the actor Sir Ian McKellen, who attended the same school at the same time as him. After touching on some scientific themes such as chemistry and nanotechnology, and admitting that microwave spectroscopy was the only subject he really fully understood, he moved on to discuss broader societal aspects of science. In particular, the relationship between religion and science came under sharp focus. Towards the end of his talk, the theme of sustainability — a common one at the meeting — was discussed, with Kroto suggesting that “we really can't sustain our consumption of energy unless we work out a way to split water efficiently.”
“They promised payback in this lifetime”, said Kroto, with a pun on the way humans are destroying the planet with blatant disregard for future generations.

Above picture of Harry Kroto with a bucky ball made out of balloons on his head, simply make one understand why (despite causing some religious controversy) he was one of the biggest hits!

He has a bunch of education initiatives going on and he intends to link all the teachers in the world in the next 4-5 years. Ambitious; but he is using his Nobel and Knight status the hilt. He spends a lot of his time spreading the good word of science - through workshops, lectures and the like, and is quite the show man.

I was most touched by Dr. Kroto's thought provoking lecture. Not only did the great talk encompass ease of understanding but it also embodied insights on how he came to his discoveries as well as how he is using his position to help better society. He reminded me that we as scientist need to bridge the gap with non-scientists as well as prepare and encourage our youth that science is important and it are nothing to be afraid of.

His fame was better understood seeing the jam-packed audiences during the discussion session. This informal discussion with the laureates increased my knowledge in the fields of physics and chemistry. I learned that lines between the fields of chemistry, physics, and medicine/physiology are slowly intertwining and overlapping with each other. The scientific community as whole has gained from the meshing of the disciplines.

Sir Kroto, this chemistry celeb exploited his stardom while giving pose with young researchers!

At the end of this informal discussion (Chatting, I better say!), I introduced myself to this “Chemistry Celeb”, and had the most cordial conversation including serious issues of Bangladesh. Once again, I found the Nobel Laureate “clued-up” of my country Bangladesh! I am honored!

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