Tribute to Dr. Richard E. Smalley by Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Director, Office of Science

Richard Smalley, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist whose tireless advocacy for nanotechnology won him world-renowned fame and respect, passed away on October 28, 2005. His co-discovery in the 1980s of fullerenes – or "buckyballs", as he preferred to call them – earned him the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1996. We shall miss him very much. His loss makes us all poorer.

Rick was a tireless leader, calling for research and development in the energy field. He seized every opportunity to discuss and promote the energy issue, which he called the most important problem facing humanity. He was an advocate for the exploration of new avenues of basic research leading to transformational solutions to the energy problem. He advocated within scientific circles, within the Congress and Administration, and with the public at large. He performed this crucial function with verve and commitment.

He was a visionary leader and an outspoken advocate for the National Nanotechnology Initiative. His eloquence on Capitol Hill was pivotal in persuading many of the nation’s leaders to support the emerging field. In his testimony before House and Senate committees in 1999, Rick said, “The impact of nanotechnology on health, wealth, and lives of people will be at least the equivalent of the combined influences of microelectronics, medical imaging, computer-aided engineering, and man-made polymers developed in this century." The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, signed by President Bush on December 3, 2003, was made a reality thanks in large part to Rick’s advocacy.

Rick's experience with buckyballs led to his concept of the use of carbon nanotubes as transmission wires that would be lighter, stronger and more efficient than today's grid technologies. He also envisioned nanoscience as the key to enabling solar and other renewable energy sources in the future to dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

He was a good friend to many researchers in the nanoscience community, including people within the Office of Science in the Department of Energy. His pioneering research in what has become one of the most powerful techniques in chemical physics, supersonic beam laser spectroscopy, was supported by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) and laid the foundation for his Nobel-winning research. He was also a member of the BES Advisory Committee and had taken key leadership roles in several workshops and meetings to charter the roadmap for an energy security plan that outlines the basic research needs for a secure energy future.

We shall all miss Rick’s scientific genius, forward-looking vision, relentless drive to achieve excellence, and commitment to promoting energy research. He will be remembered by his many friends and colleagues for his energy, enthusiasm, generous spirit, and dedication to the pursuit of science. Most of all, we shall mourn for the loss of a good personal friend, and a friend of all mankind.

Note: Additional information about Richard E. Smalley can be found on his Rice University web siteand in his Rice University obituary.

Information about Dr. Smalley’s 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is available on the official Nobel Prize web site.