March 11, 2005

Nobel Prize-winning chemist to lecture at SIUC

by Paula M. Davenport


CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Nobel Prize- winning chemist Richard E. Smalley will deliver a free, public lecture in early April at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

A devoted scientist, Smalley strives to apply his intellectual gifts and discoveries to help avert widespread human suffering in the new millennium.

His lecture will focus on "Our Energy Challenge" and will begin at 7:30 p.m. Sunday April 3, in the Student Center Auditorium. Reservations are not necessary, but there is limited seating.

Smalley, professor of chemistry at Houston's Rice University, won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work with a trio of scientists who discovered and characterized extremely stable, ball-shaped carbon molecules that resemble geodesic domes.

The name given to the molecules is Buckminsterfullerene or "buckyballs," after R. Buckminster Fuller, a late SIUC professor who invented and popularized geodesic domes.

Smalley's "…current research is on ‘buckytubes,' elongated fullerenes that are essentially a new high tech polymer, following on from nylon, polypropylene, and Kevlar. But unlike any of these previous wonder polymers, these new ‘buckytubes' conduct electricity," according to a Rice University Web site

"They are likely to find applications in nearly every technology where electrons flow," the site explains.

Rice believes they may show future promise as nations search for sustainable, clean energy.

"Energy may very well be the single most critical challenge facing humanity in this century," Smalley says.

"Somehow within the next few decades we must find a new energy source that can provide at least 10 terawatts of clean power on a sustainable basis, and do this cheaply. To do this with nuclear fission would require 10,0000 breeder reactors.

"Where is that … new power is going to come from? Can it be done soon enough to avoid the hard economic times, terrorism, war and human suffering that will otherwise occur as we fight over the dwindling oil and gas reserves on the planet?" he asks rhetorically in a flier announcing his lecture.

Smalley is director of the new Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory at Rice. He became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1990 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991.

SIUC and the Illinois Junior Science and Humanities Symposium are bringing Smalley to campus. And several additional University units, including the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, are sponsoring his lecture.

Offering educational opportunities such as this is one of the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, a long-range plan SIUC is following as it prepares for its 150th birthday in 2019.