|Richard Errett Smalley|
June 6, 1943|
October 28, 2005
|Alma mater||Princeton University|
Irving Langmuir Award (1991)
E. O. Lawrence Award (1991)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1996)
Richard Errett Smalley (June 6, 1943 – October 28, 2005) was the Gene and Norman Hackerman Professor of Chemistry and a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University, in Houston, Texas. In 1996, along with Robert Curl, also a professor of chemistry at Rice, and Harold Kroto, a professor at the University of Sussex, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of a new form of carbon, buckminsterfullerene ("buckyballs"), and was a leading advocate of nanotechnology and its many applications, including its use in creating strong but lightweight materials as well as its potential to fight cancer.
Smalley attended Hope College before transferring to the University of Michigan where he received his B.S. in 1965. Between his studies, he worked in industry, where he developed his unique managerial style. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1973 with Prof. E. R. Bernstein. He completed postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, with Lennard Wharton and Donald Levy, where he was a pioneer in the development of supersonic beam laser spectroscopy.
Fullerenes and nanotechnology
Smalley's research in physical chemistry investigated formation of inorganic and semiconductor clusters using pulsed molecular beams and time-of-flight mass spectrometry. As a consequence of this expertise, Robert Curl introduced him to Harry Kroto in order to investigate a question about the constituents of astronomical dust. These are carbon-rich grains expelled by old stars such as R Coronae Borealis. The result of this collaboration was the discovery of C60 and the fullerenes as the third allotropic form of carbon.
The research that earned Kroto, Smalley and Curl the Nobel Prize mostly comprised three articles. First was the discovery of C60 in the Nov. 14, 1985, issue of Nature "C60: Buckminsterfullerene". The second article detailed the discovery of the endohedral fullerenes in "Lanthanum Complexes of Spheroidal Carbon Shells" in the Journal of the American Chemical Society v. 107 p 7779 (1985). The third announced the discovery of the fullerenes in "Reactivity of Large Carbon Clusters: Spheroidal Carbon Shells and Their Possible Relevance to the Formation and Morphology of Soot" in the Journal of Physical Chemistry v. 90 p 525 (1986).
Although only three people can be cited for a Nobel Prize, graduate students James R. Heath, Yuan Liu, and Sean C. O'Brien participated in the work. Smalley mentioned Heath and O'Brien in his Nobel Lecture. Heath went on to become a professor at Caltech and O'Brien joined Texas Instruments and is now at MEMtronics. Yuan Liu is a Senior Staff Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Following nearly a decade's worth of research into the formation of alternate fullerene compounds (e.g. C28, C70), as well as the synthesis of endohedral metallofullerenes (M@C60), reports of the identification of carbon nanotube structures led Smalley to begin investigating the iron-catalyzed synthesis of carbon nanotubes.
As a consequence of these researches, Smalley was able to persuade the administration of Rice University under then-president Malcolm Gillis to create the Rice Center for Nanoscience and Technology (CNST), focusing on any aspect of molecular nanotechnology.
Smalley's latest research was focused on carbon nanotubes, specifically focusing on the chemical synthesis side of nanotube research. He is well known for his group's invention of the high-pressure carbon monoxide (HiPco) method of producing large batches of high-quality nanotubes. Smalley spun off his work into a company, Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc. and associated nanotechnologies.
Dispute on molecular assemblers
He was an outspoken critic of the idea of molecular assemblers, as advocated by K. Eric Drexler and introduced scientific objections to them. His two main objections, which he had termed the “fat fingers problem" and the "sticky fingers problem”, argued against the feasibility of molecular assemblers being able to precisely select and place individual atoms. He also believed that Drexler’s speculations about apocalyptic dangers of molecular assemblers threaten the public support for development of nanotechnology. He debated Drexler in an exchange of letters which were published in Chemical & Engineering News as a point-counterpoint feature.
In his later years, Smalley was very outspoken about the need for cheap, clean energy, which he described as the number one problem facing humanity in the 21st century. He felt that improved science education was key, and went to great lengths to encourage young students to consider careers in science. His slogan for this effort was "Be a scientist, save the world."
In some of his later presentations, he presented a list entitled "Top Ten Problems of Humanity for Next 50 Years". His list in order of priority is:
- Terrorism & war
Smalley died of leukemia on October 28, 2005, at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, at the age of 62. Upon his death, the US Senate passed a resolution to honor Smalley, crediting him as the “Father of Nanotechnology.”
Smalley believed in Old Earth creationism, which accepts that the Earth is billions of years old:
"Recently I have gone back to church regularly with a new focus to understand as best I can what it is that makes Christianity so vital and powerful in the lives of billions of people today, even though almost 2000 years have passed since the death and resurrection of Christ. Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it’s true. God did create the universe about 13.7 billion years ago, and of necessity has involved Himself with His creation ever since. The purpose of this universe is something that only God knows for sure, but it is increasingly clear to modern science that the universe was exquisitely fine-tuned to enable human life. We are somehow critically involved in His purpose. Our job is to sense that purpose as best we can, love one another, and help Him get that job done.”
Following his death, Reasons To Believe, the publishers of the Old Earth creationism book "Who Was Adam", issued a news release that said: "Evolution has just been dealt its death blow. After reading ‘Origins of Life’, with my background in chemistry and physics, it is clear evolution could not have occurred. The new book, ‘Who Was Adam?’, is the silver bullet that puts the evolutionary model to death.” At the Tuskegee University's 79th Annual Scholarship Convocation/Parents' Recognition Program he made the following statement regarding the subject of evolution while urging his audience to take seriously their role as the higher species on this planet. “The burden of proof is on those who don't believe that 'Genesis' was right, and there was a creation, and that Creator is still involved. We are the only species that can destroy the Earth or take care of it and nurture all that live on this very special planet. I'm urging you to look on these things. For whatever reason, this planet was built specifically for us. Working on this planet is an absolute moral code. ... Let's go out and do what we were put on Earth to do." Old Earth creationist and astronomer Hugh Ross spoke at Smalley's funeral, November 2, 2005.
- Smalley, R.E. "Supersonic bare metal cluster beams. Final report", Rice University, United States Department of Energy—Office of Energy Research, (Oct. 14, 1997).
- Smalley, R.E. "Supersonic Bare Metal Cluster Beams. Technical Progress Report, March 16, 1984 - April 1, 1985", Rice University, United States Department of Energy—Office of Basic Energy Sciences, (Jan. 1, 1985).
- Harold W. Dodds Fellow, Princeton University, 1973
- Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, 1978–1980
- Fellow of the American Physical Society, 1987
- Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2003
Awards and prizes
- Irving Langmuir Prize in Chemical Physics, American Physical Society, 1991
- Popular Science Magazine Grand Award in Science & Technology, 1991
- APS International Prize for New Materials, 1992 (Joint with R. F. Curl & H. W. Kroto)
- Ernest O. Lawrence Memorial Award, U.S. Department of Energy, 1992
- Welch Award in Chemistry, Robert A. Welch Foundation, 1992
- Auburn-G.M. Kosolapoff Award, Auburn Section, American Chemical Society, 1992
- Southwest Regional Award, American Chemical Society, 1992
- William H. Nichols Medal, New York Section, American Chemical Society, 1993
- The John Scott Award, City of Philadelphia, 1993
- Hewlett-Packard Europhysics Prize, European Physical Society, 1994
- Harrison Howe Award, Rochester Section, American Chemical Society, 1994
- Madison Marshall Award, North Alabama Section, American Chemical Society, 1995
- Franklin Medal, The Franklin Institute, 1996
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1996
- Rice University Homecoming Queen, Rice University Undergraduates, 1996 (according to , confirmed by Smalley's official CV at )
- Distinguished Civilian Public Service Award, Department of the Navy, 1997
- American Carbon Society Medal, 1997
- Top 75 Distinguished Contributors, Chemical & Engineering News, 1998
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Small Times Magazine, 2003
- University of California at Los Angeles, 2002
- Distinguished Alumni Award, Hope College, 2005
- 50th Anniversary Visionary Award, SPIE – International Society for Optical Engineering, 2005
- Hafner, Jason H. (May 2006). "Obituary: Richard Errett Smalley". Physics Today 59 (5): 71–72.
- Edwards, Steven A. (2006). The Nanotech Pioneers: Where Are They Taking Us?. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH. pp. 64–66.
- Nanotechnology: Drexler and Smalley make the case for and against 'molecular assemblers' 2003-12-01
- "Top Ten Problems of Humanity for Next 50 Years", Professor R. E. Smalley, Energy & NanoTechnology Conference, Rice University, May 3, 2003.
- (May 2005, letter sent to the Hope College 2005 Alumni Banquet)
- http://www.christianpost.com/news/creation-scientists-in-three-way-debate-with-intelligent-design-evolution-7807/ As quoted by a news release issued after his death by the publishers of "Who Was Adam"
- Scholarship Convocation Speaker Challenges Scholars to Serve the Greater Good 2004-10-03
- Funeral Service for Professor Richard Smalley Speakers: James Tour, Hugh Ross and Ben Young, 2005-11-02, mp3 audio]
- Biography and Bibliographic Resources, from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information, United States Department of Energy
- The Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology - Rice University
- Smalley Group - Rice University
- Official Press Release: 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
- Brief autobiography – From the Nobel Foundation website
- Nanotech pioneer, Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley dead at 62 – Rice University press release
- Interview: Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Richard Smalley – PBS Online NewsHour, "The Future of Fuel: Advances in Hydrogen Fuel Technology"
- Energy: the 50-year Plan at the Wayback Machine (archived August 7, 2007) – Chemistry.org
- Energy video of Richard Smalley – researchchannel.org
- Obituary by Harold Kroto, published in Angewandte Chemie