This is a Buckminsterfullerene, or a Buckyball. It is composed of 60 Carbon atoms bound into the exact configuration as the vertices on a soccer ball. It was named Buckminsterfullerene after Richard Buckminster Fuller, a noted architect who popularized the geodesic dome. The discover (and namer) of the Buckminsterfullerene visited my University yesterday and gave two lectures. He shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this discovery which was a catalyst for the discoveries of many new carbon structures including the carbon nanotube.
Dr. Sir Harold Kroto gave two very good talks. The first, a seminar in the Chemistry department was about his discovery of the Buckyball and his other scientific projects, which include spectroscopy of large organic molecules in space. The second talk, which was open to the public, was much more what I am used to hearing from a Nobelaureate. He touched on a myriad of subjects from scientific education and funding to his humanitarian efforts to unite classically embattled cultures as well as the challenegs of moving away from a fossil fuel dependent society.
These types of messages from Nobelaureates to the general public are quite common. They are the rock stars of science and use their unique position to promote their pet causes. I'm undecided regarding how I feel about this. On the one hand, I applaud them for becoming ambassadors of the scientific community to humanity. Winning such a distinction gives them a platform for bettering society. I like that idea. Unfortunately, pointing out things like the harm of continuing a dependence on fossil fuels and Trent Lott's blatant disregard for the value of science to our youth is the epitome of preaching to the choir and is ultimately a waste of time. Us scientists are well aware of the need to develop alternative energy resources. And you can bet on most of us being skeptical of anything the political heavy hitters have to say. Even the laypeople in the audience without any formal scientific training probably read Scientific American, which frequently devotes entire issues to such topics.
This got me thinking. When I win my Nobel Prize I think I will absolutely use my position to educate people on things their demographic is not likely to already feel passionate about. Like...ohh...I don't know... controlling the feral cat population. Could you imagine me standing in a business suit before a group of scientists and showing them slides of Spay Day? They'd think I was a total crackhead, but that's okay. I'm a scientist.