Hellenica World

Richard Errett Smalley (June 6, 1943October 28, 2005 ) was the Gene and Norman Hackerman Professor of Chemistry and a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University, in Houston, Texas. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for the discovery of a new form of carbon, buckminsterfullerene ("buckyballs") (with Robert Curl, also a professor of chemistry at Rice, and Harold Kroto, a professor at the University of Sussex).

Early life

Smalley, the youngest of 4 siblings, was born in Akron, Ohio, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri.

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. 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 the then-novel technique of ion-cyclotron resonance 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 'dark matter'. The result of this collaboration was the discovery of C60 as the third allotropic form of carbon.

Following nearly a decade's worth of research into the formation of alternate fullerine compounds (e.g. c28, c70), as well as the synthesis of endohedral metallofullerinese (M@c60), reports of the identification of carbon nanotube structures led Rick 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 Malcolm Gillis to create the Rice Center for Nanoscience and Technology (CNST), focusing on any aspect of molecular nanotechnology. Not without controversy, this was a consequence of Smalley's concurrent wooing by Berkeley and Princeton.

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.

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”, was that he believed they exclude the possibility of precision picking and placing of 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.[1]

Later life

In recent 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 very strongly that improved science education was key, and went to great lengths to encourage young students to consider careers in science. His heart-felt slogan was "Be a scientist, save the world."

Skeptical of religion in general for most of his life, Smalley became a Christian during his last years. (See the Wikiquote for his personal statement in May 2005.)

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.[2] “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. Audio of speech is available.[3]

In 1999 Smalley was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which later became chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He died on October 28, 2005, at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, at the age of 62.

At the time of his death, he had two sons, Preston from his third marriage to JoNell M. Chauvin and Chad from his first marriage to Judith G. Sampieri. He was also survived by his fourth wife, Deborah (Sheffield), one grandchild and his brother, Clayton.

Rice University's Dr. Richard Smalley on the Future of Nanotechnology


* Hope College, Holland, Michigan, 1961-1963

* B.S., Chemistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1965

* M.A., Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, 1971

* Ph. D., Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, 1973



* 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 [4], confirmed by Smalley's official CV at [5])
* 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
* Glenn T. Seaborg Medal, University of California at Los Angeles, 2002
* Distinguished Alumni Award, Hope College, 2005
* 50th Anniversary Visionary Award, SPIE - International Society for Optical Engineering, 2005


  • 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
  • Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc.
  • Interview: Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Richard Smalley – PBS Online NewsHour, "The Future of Fuel: Advances in Hydrogen Fuel Technology"
  • Energy: the 50-year Plan – Chemistry.org
  • Obituary by Harold Kroto, published in Angewandte Chemie

Chemistry Encyclopedia

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