Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Good tribute to Harry Kroto

I really enjoyed reading this longer article on Harry Kroto's life by Neil Withers at Chemistry World. Here's a taste:
The paper was submitted to Nature two days after their speculative structure had been finalised. ‘I think if it had gone to Science for refereeing they would have turned it down,’ Kroto said. ‘But it went to Nature and they were really nice referee reports: "I don’t know there’s much in this paper, but it’s a nice paper. A lot of people would be interested in this conjecture",’ he recalled. 
Unbeknownst to Kroto and the Rice team, they nearly missed out being first to the discovery. A team from Exxon in New Jersey, US, led by Andy Kaldor, had seen very similar results about two years earlier, but without grasping the significance. ‘Two other groups did the experiment. I don’t think [the discovery] would have lasted six months after us. Someone would have done it,’ Kroto said. So why did the Rice–Sussex team get there first? ‘The clue for me was what was going on was Buckminster Fuller’s dome, and that was through graphics, not science.’ 
There were many critics of the incredible-seeming structure, including Kaldor, and Kroto has called the period after the initial observation of C60 his ‘five years in the desert’. ‘There were half a dozen papers by three of the major groups in the field who said we were wrong,’ Kroto recalled. So the race was on to produce C60 in quantities that could be put in a bottle and held in the hand – or at least studied by more conventional characterisation methods. ‘I was absolutely convinced we were right and that one day we’d do it.’
It is really remarkable to me how often these (literally, in this case) prize-winning discoveries always seem to have at least one or two groups that were really close to being first. Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: For those of you who enjoy dishy peer reviewer letters, Neil (via Twitter) sends along some of the original referee reports and some correspondence between Professor Smalley and an editor. 

1 comment:

  1. The Iron ChemistMay 11, 2016 at 8:50 AM

    I remember him seeing a talk of his about five years ago. Great speaker, great guy, great lobbyist for our field. He'll continue to be missed.