Smalley received a doctorate from Princeton University in 1973. After postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, Smalley began his teaching career at Rice University, Houston, Texas, in 1976. He was named Gene and Norman Hackerman professor of chemistry in 1982 and became a professor of physics in 1990.
It was at Rice University that Smalley and his colleagues discovered
fullerenes, the third known form of crystal carbon (diamond and graphite
are the other two known forms). The atoms of fullerenes are arranged
in a closed shell. Carbon60 is the smallest stable fullerene molecule,
consisting of 60 carbon atoms fit together to form a cage, with the
bonds resembling the pattern of seams on a soccer ball. The molecule
was given the name buckminsterfullerene because its shape is similar
to the geodesic domes designed by the American architect and theorist
R. Buckminster Fuller.
Biography of R.E. Smalley
Professor Smalley received his B.S. degree in 1965 from the University of Michigan and Ph.D. from Princeton in 1973, with an intervening four-year period in industry as a research chemist with Shell. During an unusually productive postdoctoral period with Lennard Wharton and Donald Levy at the University of Chicago, he pioneered what has become one of the most powerful techniques in chemical physics; supersonic beam laser spectroscopy.
After coming to Rice University in 1976 he rose rapidly through the academic ranks, being named to the Gene and Norman Hackerman Chair in Chemistry in 1982. He was one of the founders of the Rice Quantum Institute in 1979, and served as the Chairman of this interdisciplinary Institute from 1986 to 1996. Since January 1990 he has also been a Professor in the Department of Physics, and was appointed Director of the new Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice in 1996. In 1990 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and in 1991 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the recipient of the 1991 Irving Langmuir Prize in Chemical Physics, the 1992 International Prize for New Materials (which he shares with his colleagues R. F. Curl and H. W. Kroto), the 1992 E.O. Lawrence Award of the U.S. Department of Energy, the 1992 Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry, the 1993 William H. Nichols Medal of the American Chemical Society, the 1993 John Scott Award of the City of Philadelphia, the 1994 Europhysics Prize, the 1994 Harrison Howe Award, the 1995 Madison Marshall Award, the 1996 Franklin Medal, and the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
His research at Rice has made pioneering advances in the development of new experimental techniques (super-cold pulsed beams; ultrasensitive laser detection technique; laser-driven source of free radicals, triplets, metals, and both metal and semiconductor cluster beams) and has applied these techniques to a broad range of vital questions in chemical physics. He is widely known for the discovery and characterization of C60 (Buckminsterfullerene), a soccerball-shaped molecule which, together with other fullerenes such as C70, now constitutes the third elemental form of carbon (after graphite and diamond). His group has also been the first to generate fullerenes with metals trapped on the inside. His current research is focused on the production of continuous carbon fibers which are essentially giant single-fullerene molecules. Just a few nanometers in width, but many centimeters in length, these fullerene fibers are expected to be the strongest fibers ever made, 100 times stronger September 2, 1997 than steel.
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