Tribute for Robert Curl, Nobel Prize-winning chemist

Dear Rice Community,

I am writing to share the extremely sad news that Nobel Prize-winning chemist, University Professor Emeritus and the Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences Robert Curl died July 3 in Houston. He was 88.

Bob was an internationally acclaimed scientist and nanotechnology pioneer whose 64-year career at Rice University was marked by kindness and caring that made him one of the institution’s most beloved and respected figures.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from what was then the Rice Institute in 1954 and returned as an assistant professor in 1958 after completing his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley and finishing a brief postdoctoral stint at Harvard University.

At Berkeley, Bob worked with Kenneth Pitzer, who would become Rice’s third president in 1961. Pitzer discovered barriers to internal rotation about single bonds and helped Bob forward his studies on microwave spectroscopy.

When Bob was recruited to Rice as an assistant professor the following year, he continued those studies and would go on to spend most of his career studying the spectra, structures and kinetics of free radicals and other substances via spectroscopy.

He became a full professor in 1967 and had a reputation for being a good listener and a caring mentor to students. He and his wife, Jonel, served as magisters of Lovett College, one of Rice’s residential colleges, from 1968 to 1972.

In 1985, Bob, Rice chemist Rick Smalley and Bob’s friend, Harold Kroto, from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, worked with graduate students to conduct an 11-day experiment that led to the discovery of buckyballs, hollow cages of carbon about one nanometer in diameter that resemble soccer balls. The men won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery in 1996.

Despite earning one of science’s top honors, Bob was a quiet hero who stayed true to his passions – scientific discovery, teaching and the spirit of collegiality. During his more than six decades as a faculty member at Rice, he mentored countless students and colleagues. His institutional presence on campus made a profound contribution to the university’s culture and character that will live on for years to come.

Read more about Bob and his accomplishments at Rice in Rice News.


Kind regards,

Reginald DesRoches, President


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