Harry Kroto: An Artistic and Adventurous Chemist with a Flair for Astrophysics
Chemistry is the oldest of the sciences. For much of recorded history it was known by its Arabic name of “alchemy,” of course; and it was not until about the eighteenth century that “chemistry” became the norm. Chemists would have had little difficulty demonstrating a potential for economic and other social benefits because such objectives were the sine qua non of what they did. They were very successful in this, and made many advances in such fields as ore extraction, metal refining, brewing, dyes, cosmetics, and medicines, motivated only by prospects of increased fame and riches, and the possibility that they might ease the lives of their fellows. Indeed, at least until the seventeenth century, practical work tended to dominate at the expense of the advancement of science in general, but chemists rarely had to deal with the restrictions on their creativity imposed by the prevailing dogma. Scientists from other disciplines were not so lucky, of course, as illustrated by the well-known struggles of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo.
Many of Isaac Newton's struggles, on the other hand, seem to have been self-imposed. In addition to his prolific contributions to physics—in mechanics, optics, and mathematics—Newton also had a long career as a chemist. Astonishingly, he devoted more than 30 years searching for a Holy alchemical Grail that the most desperate modern scientist would scarcely contemplate for ...