Nobel prize winner Richard Smalley, co-discoverer of fullerene and one of the most prominent and well-respected nanotechnology researchers in the world, passed away today after a six year battle with cancer. He was 62 years old.
Dr. Smalley shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of buckminsterfullerene with Robert Curl, another Rice University chemist, and British chemist Sir Harold Kroto. Named in honor of Richard Buckminster Fuller, fullerene is a molecule made up entirely of atoms of carbon that can be in the shape of a sphere, ellipsoid, or tube. The spherical molecules are often called buckyballs while the tubes are known as buckytubes. This discovery jump started the the field of nanotechnology and still remains one of the most influential discoveries in the discipline.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, he was also the recipient of multiple awards and honors including the American Carbon Society Medal, the Glenn T. Seaborg Medal, the Irving Langmuir Prize, the Franklin Medal, and the Ernest O. Lawrence Memorial Award. In 2000, Smalley co-founded Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc. which commerically manufactures carbon nanotubes. Starting in 2002, he became an advocate for researching alternative energy technologies, for which he felt nanotechnology was an excellent solution.
Even during his protracted fight with cancer, Smalley continued to work, researching and developing nanotech production and processing technologies. He was surrounded by family and friends when he died this afternoon at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.