THE 1996 NOBEL PRIZE FOR CHEMISTRY (as told by Jonathan Hare)

In December 1996 I was lucky to be part of the Sussex group which accompanied Harry Kroto to Sweden for the awarding of the Nobel Prize for chemistry. This is my account of the historic event.

Prof. Sir Harry Kroto, Steve Kroto, Margaret Kroto, Dr David Walton, Carole Walton, Prof. Reg Colin*, Claudia Colin*, Prof. Danko Bosanac**, Dr Sean O'Brian*** and Dr Jonathan Hare.
(* University Libre de Bruxelles, ** Rudjer Bofkovic, Institute Sagreb, *** USA, Texas)

The Nobel prize was awarded in Stockholm, Sweden. The Sussex team stayed at the Grand Hotel near the centre of the city.

THE PRIZE IS ANNOUNCED - Harry Kroto’s Nobel Prize 9th October 1996

Before lunch ...
Harry, Bernd Eggen, Gill Watson and I went for lunch at the Gardener Arts Centre (Sussex University). Just before we went to lunch Bernd checked the www for news of the Nobel prize, however they did not give out the news till later, so we left it and went to eat.

Just a normal lunchtime
At lunch we chatted about who might get THE prize and Harry suggested Dick Zare. I remember listening to the conversation with some interest but I was actualy happy to eat my cake and drink the coffee - I wasnt thinking about the possibility that Harry might win although it had been mentioned in previous years.

www and Bernds reaction
After lunch we came back to the lab and Bernd looked up the latest info on the www, the three of us stood there waiting to see who had won. As the page came into view Bernd gave a mighty yell and ran out of the room. Harry and I looked at each other a bit puzzled trying to work out why Bernd was so excited. The words on the screen seemed to hide from us, then we both saw it - HARRY KROTO ! Bernd came rushing back into the lab with a bottle of champagne and I got some glass’s, Harry and I were both a bit dazed - was it really true ?

What we read on the web site information :
'The Royal Swedish Academy of Science has decided to award the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly to
Professor Robert F. Curl, Jr., Rice University, Houston, USA,
Professor Sir Harold W. Kroto, University of Sussex, Brighton, U.K., and
Professor Richard E. Smalley, Rice University, Houston, USA,
for their discovery of fullerenes.'

The answer phone
The next thing I remember was ‘must check the answer phone’, On the machine was a collection of messages one of which was from the Royal Swedish Academy, a kindly but sober voice informing Sir Harry that he had been chosen as a joint winner of the 1996 Nobel prize for Chemistry.

Phone calls, fax’s and interviews
Soon after listening to the message on the answer phone I rushed around playing it to people. I ran into David Waltons office without knocking and said "listen to this !" I can remember how Dave's eyes lit up. Almost immediately the phone calls and Fax’s started to pore in .... it felt like a number of birthdays and Christmas days rolled into one !


DIARY OF THE TRIP: 6th - 11th December 1996

Friday 6th December - The Glory
Meet up with Dave at about 7 am and we then went to pick up his wife, Carole and also Harry's son Steve Kroto. On the flight over I tried to relax and read but I was too excited. I remember pearing out the window and seeing the largest oil tanker ever and also a Glory. A Glory is wonderful ring of rainbow light that appears around the shadow of the plane. The best place to look for one is when flying way above the clouds. Imagine a line going from the Sun through the plane and out through the other side. If you follow this line, by looking out through a window on the other side, you might be able to see the shadow of the plane miles below on a low cloud. If you look closely, and you are very lucky, you might also see a rainbow ring around the shadow - this is called a Glory. The glory is produced by multiple reflections in the tiny water drops that make up the cloud. On its path through the drops the light is directed almost right back along the path from the Sun. Hence the obsever needs to be along the Sun-shadow line to see it. The glory was a wonderful start to the trip.


Arrived in Stockholm and got to the Grand Hotel at about 3:30pm local time, noticed how dark it was. Amazing hotel and people very friendly. Had coffee with David and Carole and then went up to my room to make up a giant C960 fullerene model for Harry's talk. Went out with the sussex crowd to a resturant in town.

Top: Reg Colin and Sean O'Brian. Bottom : group photo taken on the first day at a resturant in Stockholm

Saturday 7th December
Slept very badly, I think it was the combination of the rather hot hotel room, funny dreams and I suppose actualy being a bit nervious for Harry.
The Chemistry and Physics Nobel Lauretes gave their talks today, 3 talks in the morning and afternoon. The talks were at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Beijersalen, Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien). They were broadcast live to several colleges and universities around Sweden. Rick Smalleys talk was very good, mainly about nanotubes. Bob Curl's went well also but Harry's was a breath of fresh air after a rather intense day of five brilliant lectures. He brought all the 'people' in the fullerene science story into the scean and made Sean O'brian, Jim Heath, David and myself get up in front of the audiance at the end of the talk. Overall I was surprised at the low keyness of the talks especialy as the rest of the festivities are so high brow. Went into the old town for a meal and some drinks - a rather amazing first day.

Harry Kroto giving his Nobel lecture

Sunday 8th December
I missed the press conference in the morning as David, Danko and I went for a walk around the town. Went on to a reception at the Royal Swedish Academy. The hotel services are excellent, for example they come into the room three times and set up the room and the lighting 'approprately' for the particular 'mood' of the time of day. I once asked them if they could iron a couple of shirts for me, which they said they could and they took them. I then chatted to Dave for a little while and went up to my room. By the time I had walked up the stairs and into my room, there the shirts where hanging up, all ironed and pressed - thats service !

Monday 9th December
The morning starts with an exhibition at the Art Gallery very near to the Hotel. Very inspirational, lots of lovely paintings by Swedish artists. The collection box at the entrance had the most amazing lock system in the lid. It was a beautifuly made multi-bolt system that when closed and locked, simultaneously put several metal tonges out, and into each side of the box. It was a superb action - I suppose you had to be there !
Lunch was at the British Embassy, Very formal. we were five to a table, all dressed up and talking about, well trying to talk naturaly, about noting in particular. Found this all a bit intimidating.

Another reception at the Swedish Academy in the afternoon. Each subsiquent reception seems to be bigger and more grand. Very impresive building and lovely rooms. Chatted a while to last years Nobel chemistry winner and his wife - very nice couple really helped me to relax a lot. This reception was remarkable in that it had so many school kids, students and young people at it. Many of them were invited from all parts of the world. Very interesting and friendly collection of people.
Later on Dave and I were picked up by a stretched limo and taken to a little tailors somewhere in Stockholm. There we were measured up for our formal dress - the penguin suits.

Tuesday 10 December 1996
This was to be an amazing day for me starting with the award cerimony and ending with an early morning tramp through the streets in the gloom of an early winter morning in Stockholm.
The day started with Dave, Steve and I meeting to help each other tackle the dressing up - Men to Penquins ! Then we all went to the Stockholm Concert Hall for the award ceremony. It was a bit long winded but there was some amazing music and singing. Take some pictures of Harry receiving the medal from the King of Stockholm.

The next stop was the Banquet room at the City Hall. We were each given a little booklet showing where and who we were to sit next too. Between the courses there was singing and music as well as performances by opera and duet singers - very wonderful. The courses were brought out on silver plates with a cover. The waiters would stand by a small group of us and at a nod from the head waiter all the covers were removed and a 1000 people were served at once !

I sat next to Jim Heath's mother and facing me was a very famous Prof. of Quantum Mechanics and his wife. They were very friendly and the old professor had a twinkle in his eye ! He delighted in showing me the correct way of drinking a toast in Sweeden - look strength into the eyes of the person in front and then down the drink ! The drink was always very good, a different wine or spirit for each course. I was a bit sad that Sarah (my girlfriend) was not with me.

After the banquet there was a brief rest before the ball started. I went for a walk and found Steve Kroto in a deep and intense conversation with Rick Smalleys son. The ball was a bit uncomfortable without Sarah, but I continued to taste the wine as it was so good.

After the ball (around midnight) there is a tradition that the Nobel laureates and guest are taken to the 'Night Cap' an alternative festival run by the students. This was as amazing as the first part of the day. Excellent sketches and music, all very entertaining. The party went on with food and music till about 2 or 3 am. Most of the group went home but I was invited with a few others to go to a special night club set up for the event. We talked, danced and drank till the (not so) early hours. I had the most amazing day - to think I saw my boss get the 'big one'. I was on a complete high - 'a just about dancing buckyball penquin researcher' from Brighton !

By about 8am I had to go home to bed. I walked through the streets of Stockholm, a fuzzy head full of memories of an historic event. The drizzle came down and through the twilight I stumbled bleary eyed in a disheveled penquin suit back to the hotel.

Wednesday 11 December
Had about two hours sleep and then meet up with the rest of the group to take the flight back to the UK. I couldnt sleep much on the plane.

Reg Colin and Harry Kroto soon after the award ceremony

Harry being awarded the Nobel Prize at the award ceremony, Stockholm City Hall

Group photo taken soon after the award ceremony. Back (L to R) : Jim Heath, Sean O'Brian, Steve Kroto, Danko Bosanac, Reg Colin and Jonathan Hare
Front (L to R): David Walton, Carol Walton, Harry Kroto, Margaret Kroto, Claudia Colin


6th Dec., Fly out Gatwick - Stockholm
7th Dec., Nobel lectures in Physics and Chemistry, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

8th Dec., Press conference, Reception

9th Dec., National Museum of Fine Art exhibition, Lunch - British Embassy, Reception - Nobel Foundation at the Swedish Academy of Sciences

10th Dec., Award Ceremony, Stockholm Concert Hall, Banquet and Ball - Blue Hall of the city Hall, Night Cap - students Union

11th Fly back, Stockholm - Gatwick


For information sheets on the 1996 Chemistry Nobel Prize go to :

For general information about the Nobel Prize etc. go to :

I would like to thank Harry Kroto for inviting me along with the rest of the Sussex group. I would also like to thank Michelle Ekman for looking after us at the Night Cap and club.


Dr Jonathan Hare, The University of Sussex
Brighton, East Sussex. BN1 9QJ.

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