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Home > Press > Rice classroom earns place in history

Richard Smalley, left, and Robert Curl won the Nobel Prize for the discover of buckminsterfullerene.
Richard Smalley, left, and Robert Curl won the Nobel Prize for the discover of buckminsterfullerene.

Nano's birthplace named a landmark as Rice celebrates 25th anniversary of the buckyball discovery

By Mike Williams

Rice classroom earns place in history

Houston, TX | Posted on May 31st, 2010

Rick Smalley's Rice University classroom was once a place where the curious learned at the feet of a master. Now it's a place of historical significance.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has named Room 337 in Rice's Space Science Building, where Smalley and colleagues made the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the buckminsterfullerene, as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. The honor will be formally bestowed at the Oct. 11 Bucky "Ball," part of the nanotechnology symposium that will serve as the centerpiece of Rice's Year of Nano.

The yearlong series of events celebrates the 25th anniversary of the buckyball discovery and Rice's stature as a worldwide center of nanotechnology.

With the ACS honor, Rice joins National Historic Chemical Landmarks in 24 other states. It will be the first such landmark in Texas.

"We are pleased and honored that the American Chemical Society has approved the buckyball discovery lab as a National Historic Chemical Landmark," said Wade Adams, director of Rice's Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. "This designation recognizes the buckyball discovery as a seminal achievement not only for nanotechnology but for chemistry and science as a whole. The buckyball now joins the historic ranks of chemical discoveries like penicillin, vitamin C, nylon and Scotch transparent tape."

Smalley, a University Professor and the Gene and Norman Hackerman Chair of Chemistry until his death in 2005, was part of the team that discovered the buckyball and kicked off the nanotechnology revolution 25 years ago.

The buckminsterfullerene, a perfect, soccer-ball-shaped molecule of 60 carbon atoms, is one of the earliest examples of the unique kinds of materials that can be produced through nanoscience. The buckyball's discovery in 1985 by Smalley and Robert Curl '54 of Rice and Harold Kroto, then of the University of Sussex and now at Florida State University, along with then-Rice graduate students James Heath and Sean O'Brien, began an era of nanotech research that continues to grow.

The Year of Nano will include a series of events throughout 2010 capped by the October symposium that will bring to campus some of the biggest names in carbon nanotechnology research. Curl, Kroto, Heath and O'Brien will talk about their discovery and the subsequent development of nanotechnology into the focal point of researchers around the world.

The symposium week begins Oct. 10 with the 10-10-10 Gala and will include the Bucky "Ball" at Rice Oct. 11. Both events will celebrate the history of nanotechnology at Rice and support the future of a field that has the potential to remake energy, medical care, materials science, transportation and more.

The Smalley Institute will hold a series of short courses in nanotechnology throughout the year and plans to celebrate the anniversary in more fanciful ways as well. The university will have a nano-themed vehicle in Houston's famous Art Car Parade in May, and the institute's Tuna Fest, one of the most popular campus gatherings of the year, will return this summer.

Lockheed Martin is the primary sponsor of the Year of Nano events. The company's involvement is a natural fit for Rice, Adams said. The institutions already partner in the Lockheed Martin Advanced Nanotechnology Center of Excellence at Rice, aka LANCER, through which researchers in academia tackle the high-tech industry's toughest problems.

For information about the Year of Nano, the symposium and associated events, visit


For more information, please click here

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