Education: Passed/Failed Sir Harry Kroto FRS

Nobel prizewinner Sir Harry Kroto, 60, is a specialist in spectroscopy and nanotechnology, and a co-founder of the Vega Science Trust (www.vega.org.uk ) which makes scientific programmes for the BBC2 Learning Zone
Click to follow
The Independent Online
New kid on the block

My first school was Merehall Street primary school in Bolton. I was the kid with the funny name, Krotoschiner, which had its origins in Silesia where my father's family originated. He changed it to Kroto in 1955, so it is now thought by some to be Japanese. At school, my favourite subject was art. Although science has always been the way I have earned my living, if there had ever seemed to be a possibility of earning my living by art, I would certainly have considered that.

Bolton Wanderer: I had to get a scholarship as my parents were pretty poor. There was an exam to Bolton Junior and to Bolton School itself. This has ended up as an independent school and it bothers me that, were I today in the same financial situation as my parents had been, I would not be able to send my children to this exceptional school. Though I did not like exams or homework any more than other kids, I spent as much time at school as I could. My father made me finish all my homework and I had to stay up until it was not only complete, but passed his inspection - midnight if necessary.

Quantum Meccano: At home, I had a Meccano set with which I played endlessly. New toys (mainly Lego) have eclipsed Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of kids is concerned. Meccano is a real engineering kit and teaches a particular skill: the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on to a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner so that they stay locked - but not so tightly that the thread is stripped.

Not very grand old Duke of York: I played some sport, in particular tennis. In the sixth form, I acted in the school play, Henry V, as the Duke of York, a one-line part. In his biography, Ian McKellen, who was in the same year, mentions the production as a crucial play in his career. I had no aspirations to go on stage; I had no ambitions - certainly no ambitions to be a scientist - other than just going to university.

Big bangs theory: I was good at science and started to develop an unhealthy interest in chemistry and was fascinated by the smells and bangs that are now banned. I was encouraged by the sixth-form chemistry teacher, Dr Harry Heaney (now a professor at Loughborough University), to go to Sheffield University because he reckoned it had at the time the best chemistry department.

Cover story: At Sheffield, I played for the university tennis team and we got to the Universities Athletics Union finals twice. Without me, they would probably have been champions. I ended up as president of the university's athletics council and spent some two to three hours each day attending to administration in the union. That year's involvement in embryonic politics was enough to last a lifetime. In between the tennis, some snooker and football, designing covers for the termly magazine Arrows, painting murals as backdrops for balls and playing the guitar at local folk clubs, I managed to do enough chemistry to get a first-class BSc and a PhD.

Sound as Bell: I also got married. Marg and I decided we wanted to live abroad for a while and I had an attractive offer of a post-doctoral position at the National Research Council in Ottawa. After two years, I got a post- doctoral year in the US, at Bell Labs, New Jersey. When I came back to a post-doctoral position at Sussex, my annual salary dropped from $15,000 to pounds 1,400 - ouch!

Comments