Nobel Prize-winner Harold Kroto Makes us Laugh, Makes Us Think

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Sir Harold W. Kroto came to the Jacksonville University campus Monday to inspire the minds of students from all over campus.

His presentation, titled “Science and Creativity,” focused on making the audience see how the whole world has benefitted from young scientists dedicated to making a difference and discovering the truth behind the mysteries of the world.

The packed audience laughed with him throughout the entire lecture, staying engaged the whole time.

“I thought he did a great job to get people motivated,” Lucas Meers said, the Communications Coordinator of Alumni and Parent Relations for JU.

Kroto, a 1996 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and British knight, lectured at JU in the Gooding Auditorium at 4 p.m. on Oct. 15.

Kroto has a great fondness of quotes, which slowly became evident to the crowd as he began his presentation with the quote “’If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; But if you really make them think, they’ll hate you,’” which has been attributed to Don Marquis, a humorist.

“I’m here to make you think,” Kroto said.

Making the audience think is exactly what Kroto did over the next hour of his lecture. He covered a wide range of topics, discussing his love of architecture and art as well as emphasizing the importance of future generations taking an interest in the sciences, making jokes at his own expense and others the whole time.

“That’s what being human is about,” Kroto said. “We have to have a sense of humor.”

Kroto had many intriguing experiences to share, including showing a picture of him in a school drama play with a young Sir Ian McKellen, the actor who played the popular characters Gandalf and Magneto. Kroto described McKellen as “the greatest living Shakespearian actor.”

There are three senses, according to Kroto. These three senses are common sense, uncommon sense and nonsense.

“Ninety-five percent of the world accepts claims without evidence,” Kroto said. “Scientists make up one percent of the population and they created the modern world.”

Kroto believes that there is no more humanitarian gift to the world than anesthetics, which were brought about through chemistry.

“Do you want to make a contribution or do you want to make money?” Kroto asked the audience, in reference to studying science or idolizing celebrities.

“Libraries burning” is the answer that Kroto provided to another of the questions he posed to the audience. He pondered why science developed more quickly and efficiently in Europe than in other parts of the world. He attributed Europe’s scientific progress to the spread of knowledge catalyzed by the advent of the Gutenberg printing press. He showed a list on the screen behind the podium where he stood, that went on for quite a while, that noted every instance of book burning in history. According to Kroto, the spread of books and knowledge meant that those in power could no longer keep the common people from questioning what they were told and discovering things for themselves. He described modern book burnings as “pissing in the wind.” He referenced the people who burned the popular Harry Potter books, who were unable to burn the millions of copies sold to the general public.

Aspiring scientists can find hope in the fact that even such a well-renowned scientist as Kroto did not always want to study science. He shared a letter sent home to his parents back in 1947 that indicated that young Harry was more interested in “play” than in doing his schoolwork. Kroto feels that his desire to play actually led to his current career. He went from playing with model construction sets, nuts and bolts, to working with electrons and atoms.

Kroto is an advocate for science education and devotes much of his time to promoting careers in science among young people.

“People think of scientists as old geezers,” Kroto said.

He pointed out to the audience that many famous scientists, including Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, were young men when they made some of their famous discoveries.

Kroto gave out a lot of advice to his rapt audience, including a simple recipe for success.

“Attitude is the most important thing,” Kroto said. “Give it your best effort.

If you are satisfied with second best, Kroto says to find something else to do.

“My strength lies soley in my tenacity.”

According to a JU press release, Kroto has been the Florida State University Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry since 2004 after teaching at the University of Sussex in England for 37 years. He shared the Nobel Prize with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley based on their discovery of buckminsterfullerene, a form of pure carbon better known as “buckyballs.” The extraordinary molecule consists of 60 carbon atoms arranged as a spheroid in a pattern exactly matching the stitching on soccer balls.

According to the press release, Kroto has established a global educational outreach to develop new ways of using the Internet to get children all over the world excited about science and willing to work together to address some of humanity’s most pressing problems.

We are living in what Kroto refers to the “GooYouWiki World” or “GYWW.” Kroto spoke on how we now have access to incredible amounts of information through the internet.

“Don’t waste it.”

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