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Richard Smalley: Visionary and Pioneer

Although we have dedicated no small amount of space to disagreeing with him on certain points over the years, it is beyond question that Richard Smalley, who died on Friday, was an integral leader of and contributor to the emerging field of nanotechnology.

Smalley won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery of buckminsterfullerene, fondly known as the "buckyball" in industry circles. This discovery represented a watershed moment for nanotechnology; it paved the way for the development of carbon nanotubes, the promise of which would be difficult to overstate.

In recent years, Smalley became a passionate advocate for developing alternative energy sources. He also carried on a long-term debate with K. Eric Drexler about the viability of the idea of nanotech assemblers.

His contributions will be long remembered.

Goodbye, Dr. Smalley. And thank you.


Smalley was a giant in the science of the very small. His discovery, the bucky ball, may someday conquer the disease that cut his life short.

It's regrettable that he didn't live to see who was right in his public debate with Drexler. When the answer is determined - and I'm pulling for Drexler on this one - we should tip our hat to Smalley... either way.

Who knows how much of the impatience Smalley displayed toward Drexler was partially due to his knowledge of his own body clock ticking down? It doesn't matter. Smalley contributed hugely toward nanoscience. The debate he helped to energize served in the end to hone the arguments and approaches to assembler nano. When a great and distinguished scientist says that something is impossible, well, you know how that goes.

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