Smalley, Richard Erret


Smalley, Richard Erret
▪ 2006

      American chemist and physicist (b. June 6, 1943, Akron, Ohio—d. Oct. 28, 2005, Houston, Texas), was a leading proponent of the development and application of nanotechnology, the manipulation of materials at the extremely small scale of individual atoms or groups of atoms. Seeing tremendous potential in its ability to solve many technological problems, he persuasively argued for large U.S. government funding of nanotechnology research. Smalley received a Ph.D. (1973) in chemistry from Princeton University. After postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, he joined the faculty of Rice University, Houston, in 1976. Smalley was an adept researcher and, among other accomplishments, developed supersonic beam laser spectroscopy, which became an important tool in physical chemistry. In 1985, using an apparatus that he had helped develop, Smalley and his colleagues unexpectedly found spherical carbon molecules composed of 60 atoms that were arranged in a pattern that resembled a soccer ball or geodesic dome. The researchers called them buckminsterfullerenes (buckyballs for short), after geodesic-dome designer R. Buckminster Fuller. The molecules represented a previously unknown elemental form of carbon, and for the discovery Smalley and his colleagues Robert Curl, Jr., and Sir Harold Kroto were awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Other large cagelike molecules of carbon, called fullerenes, were soon discovered. Smalley's later research focused on long cylindrical fullerenes called carbon nanotubes, which are extremely strong and have useful electrical properties. In 2000 he helped start Carbon Nanotechnologies, Inc., to develop the production and application of carbon nanotubes.

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Universalium. 2010.