You are here

Rice University
Carbon Nanotechnology Project
Chemistry, Physics, Nanotechnology


Richard Errett Smalley was a University Professor and the Gene and Norman Hackerman Chair of Chemistry at Rice University. In 1996, he along with Professors Robert Curl and Harold Kroto was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their 1985 discovery of the buckminsterfullerene. He attended Hope College before transferring to the University of Michigan where he received his BS in Chemistry in 1965. Since the job-market was booming, Smalley opted for the work-force and accepted a position with Shell Oil Company. In 1969, Smalley returned to his studies at Princeton University. He worked under Elliot R. Bernstein and received his PhD in Chemistry in 1973. Smalley immediately followed up his graduate work with a post-doctoral position with Donald H. Levy and Lennard Wharton at the University of Chicago. In 1976, Smalley moved to Houston, TX, to begin an assistant professorship in the Department of Chemistry. In 1985, while investigating the constituents of astronomic dark matter, Smalley, Curl, Kroto, and their students discovered the third allotrope of carbon - C60. After the discovery of the buckyball, Smalley's research focus turned to carbon nanotubes and the application of their extraordinary properties. Later in his career, Smalley became very passionate about energy and education. He believed that by making affordable, clean energy available to all many of humanity's other pressing problems like poverty and food supply would be much easier to solve. Smalley spent time not only researching paths to abundant, clean energy he also devoted time to educating politicians and world leaders on the need for and a solution to the energy problem. Smalley believed strongly that one critical aspect to solving the issue of energy was educating the next generation of scientists. He often encouraged young students to consider careers in science and engineering under the slogan "Be a scientist, save the world". On October 28, 2005, Smalley lost a 6-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 62 years old.