Robert Curl
(1933-present)

Aged 86

Born in Alice, Texas, United States, Curl was the son of a Methodist minister. Due to his father's missionary work, his family moved several times within southern and southwestern Texas, and the elder Curl was involved in starting the San Antonio Medical Center's Methodist Hospital. Curl attributes his interest in chemistry to a chemistry set he received as a nine-year-old, recalling that he ruined the finish on his mother's porcelain stove when nitric acid boiled over onto it. He is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas. His high school offered only one year of chemistry instruction, but in his senior year his chemistry teacher gave him special projects to work on. Curl received a B.S. from Rice Institute (now Rice University) in 1954. He was attracted to the reputation of both the school's academics and football team, and the fact that at the time it charged no tuition. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1957. At Berkeley, he worked in the laboratory of Kenneth Pitzer, then dean of the College of Chemistry, with whom he would become a lifelong collaborator. Curl's graduate research involved performing infrared spectroscopy to determine the bond angle of disiloxane.

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Commemorated on 1 plaque

In this building in early September 1985, a team of scientists discovered a previously unknown pure carbon molecule, C60, which they dubbed buckminsterfullerene. The name was chosen because the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller provided a clue that the molecule’s atoms might be arranged in the form of a hollow cage. The structure, a truncated icosahedron with 32 faces, 12 pentagonal and 20 hexagonal, has the shape of a soccer ball. Nicknamed buckyballs, this first known stable molecular form of carbon not only opened up a new field of organic chemistry but also, through the development of carbon nanotubes, a new field of materials science. In 1996, Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the fullerenes.

Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Rice University, 6100 Main Street, Space Science Building, TX 77005, Houston, TX, United States where they was part of a team of scientists that discovered a previously unknown pure carbon molecule, C60, which they dubbed buckminsterfullerene (1985)