Nanotechnology pioneer Richard Smalley, who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry for work that launched the nanotechnology industry, died 28 October after a long battle with cancer. He was 62.
Smalley, a professor of chemistry at Rice University in Houston, Texas, co–discovered carbon–60, a soccer ball-shaped form of carbon also known as buckminsterfullerene or "buckyballs." More than just about any other finding, the discovery of C-60 persuaded researchers that they could build materials from the bottom up, atom by atom. "Richard was truly the 'grandfather' of the entire field of nanotechnology," says Anna Barker, deputy director of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, which is currently in the middle of a $144 million cancer nanotechnology research effort.
Smalley was also one the field's greatest spokesmen. He helped convince Congress to create the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a $1-billion-a-year federal effort that he predicted could lead to a new generation of nanotech-based drugs capable of wiping out many forms of cancer, such as the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma from which he suffered. "I may not live to see it. But, with your help, I am confident it will happen," Smalley testified in 1999. "Rick was, more than anybody else, a Moses for the field," says Jim Heath, a nanotechnology expert at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and a former graduate student in Smalley's lab. "Without a Moses, there's no trip to the promised land."
In recent years, Smalley had also been a tireless campaigner for increased spending on new sources of energy, warning audiences that "energy is the single most important problem facing humanity today."
Smalley's Web site
Smalley's testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the proposal to establish a National Nanotechology Initiative in 1999
Smalley's testimony in 2002 before Congress on the nation's impending energy crisis