Sir Harry Kroto and C60 – my friend, some science, some astrology

Sir Harry Kroto and C60

In May 2016, I opened a newspaper to be confronted with the sad news that my visionary friend Sir Harry Kroto had passed away at the age of 76. It turned out that he had been suffering from motor neuron disease. My mind went back to how I had got to know this lovely man, who contributed to the lives of many thousands of people across the world.

Around 1994, a friendly character used to come into the bar where I worked at the University of Sussex, ordering a half-pint of Fosters to go with his lunch. We gradually hit it off, leading to a fair amount of Pythonesque clowning around on a regular basis. One day, another customer approached me, looking rather worried. “You do know who he is, don’t you?” he asked. “I think he’s a chemistry professor, isn’t he? Great bloke, a really good laugh!” Much to my surprise soon after, I was watching a BBC2 science documentary and there on the screen came Mr. Half-of-Fosters, his usual eloquent, charming and cheeky self. I got to know who he was a bit better after that.

An extraordinary man

Harry was an extraordinary man, by any standards. As a scientist he helped discover C60, a new form of carbon which became known as Buckminsterfullerene. The discovery of the football-shaped molecule kick-started the nanotechnology revolution and led to his Nobel Prize (along with two other scientists) for chemistry in 1996. He predicted that C60 and a range of other new carbon molecules should exist in interstellar space from exploding and forming stars. It took thirty years before the scientific community finally proved his idea correct. Harry became a global ambassador for science and inspired countless school children around the world through his lectures and workshops. However, he was also an accomplished and award-winning graphic designer, an artist, musician, performer and speaker.

Long before I became an astrologer, I originally had plans to study chemistry at university. Like many, it was the scientific approach of repeated observation that drew me to astrology, rather than any kind of belief. As I gradually got to know Harry and one or two of his colleagues, inevitably the subject of astrology came up. Harry was an arch-sceptic but by then I knew him well enough to tease him that he was scared of having his chart done. Eventually he gave in and, although he didn’t know his time of birth, I wrote out a basic interpretation of his solar chart by hand. I remember immediately noticing a very close trine aspect between his Mercury in Libra and my Mercury in Gemini, confirming that we were on the same wavelength.

Harry’s astrological birth chart

Born on 7th October 1939, Harry Kroto had Sun, Mercury and Venus in Libra and was very much a typical Libran. He was charming, sociable and well known for speaking out on matters of justice and ethics. Initiating and communicating new ideas was Harry’s thing and his long and happy marriage to Margaret was a source of tremendous strength. The experimental and humanitarian energy of Mars in Aquarius was appropriate for a slightly eccentric scientist who was a keen supporter of both Amnesty International and the British Humanist Association. In common with many academics, Harry had a challenging close Mercury-Saturn aspect. As a balance to all the intellectual idealism, a warm and playful Moon in Leo (“To be a scientist is to be fascinated by the Universe, to have the same attitude as that of a child… Children learn from scratch. Children develop and learn quickly from their surrounding environment and the events that take place around them.”) was often on show, with further confidence and leadership ability coming from Jupiter in Aries trine to Pluto in Leo. Harry made full use of the consciousness-raising outer planet trine between Uranus in Taurus and Neptune in Virgo.

The next time I saw Harry after having done his chart for him, there was a big grin on his face as he handed me £40, which I hadn’t asked for. “So what did you think of it?” I asked him. Pause. Bigger grin on his face. “You just take that!” I think that was the closest I got to an endorsement of astrology by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. That was good enough for me.

The astrology of the discovery of C60

Jonathan Hare, who was a close colleague of Harry’s, has kindly provided me with the birth data for the moment of the discovery of the C60 molecule. 6.56pm, 4th September 1985 in Houston, Texas – taken from the mass spectra reading from a cluster beam apparatus. Jonathan’s brief summary of the discovery:-

“The apparatus was a stainless steel piece of equipment that would fit into a small room: computers, vacuum pumps, electronics and the like.

At one side there was a powerful laser that can vaporise a sample, in this case carbon, graphite. The laser heated the carbon to 5,000 maybe 10,000 degrees C – as hot as a surface of a star – and the resulting plasma was quickly blasted into the main chamber of the apparatus by a pulse of helium gas. This large chamber had very little air in it, a very high vacuum. So in some ways the experiment represented the conditions of carbon coming off the surface of a star into the vacuum of space. Unlike space which is too far out to go and get a sample from, this experiment was on Earth. It could therefore be hooked up to a mass spectrometer that could ‘weigh’ out the things that were produced in the experiment.

They were looking for carbon chains that had been seen in great abundance out in space from carbon stars and they did see them on the mass spectrometer plots or data. But unexpected was also a strong peak for C60 – corresponding to 60 carbon atoms (and its companion C70 – “The Lone Ranger and Tonto, a-coming down the line, fixing every ones troubles, everyone’s except mine, someone must have told him I was doing fine!” Bob Dylan) which turned out to be a football of carbon! Named after Richard Buckminster Fuller (the engineer/architect who developed the geodesic dome seen in the Epcot Centre and Eden Project etc.), so called C60 or Buckminsterfullerene or a Bucky Ball.

C60 was discovered by accident, trying to understand something else, a classic case of serendipity!”

A quick look at the astrological birth chart confirms the story of C60. The ruling planet Uranus is up in the Sagittarius 10th house, corresponding nicely with an unexpected and famous discovery that spread around the world. Square to Uranus, the Sun is in Virgo and the 7th house, combining analysis and public service. Completing a T-square at the bottom of the chart is a 4th house Chiron in Gemini. Two groups of scientists had been involved in the discovery and there was some dispute about who had actually come up with the name C60. Such problems were later resolved. With the Moon exalted in Taurus, there was no problem attracting funding when it came to further research work on fullerene molecules. Close to the Descendant is a Mercury-Mars conjunction in Leo, as one might expect for a discovery that has been enthusiastically taught to thousands of schoolchildren.

In August of 2016, I had the great honour of contributing to a celebration of Harry’s life. It took place at the university building where I had met him all those years ago, now re-named the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. Going on stage after Sir Ian McKellen (who had been at Bolton School with Harry), I shared a few of my memories with 200 people or so, many of them scientists who had flown in from around the world. One of the previous speakers had already mentioned Harry’s dislike of “pseudoscience” so I was very, very careful as I sneaked a brief summary of Harry’s birth chart into my speech! Having got away with it, I finished with a song on the guitar. Harry had also been extremely supportive of my music.

Harry frequently spoke about the importance of communicating complex science to public audiences: “Scientific discoveries matter much more when they’re communicated simply and well – if you can’t explain your work to the man in the pub, what’s the point?” That sounds like a lesson for astrologers too.

The above article was originally published in the May/June 2017 issue of the Astrological Journal magazine https://www.facebook.com/AstrologicalJournal Thank you to editor Victor Olliver. This is the bimonthly publication of the Astrological Association http://www.astrologicalassociation.com dedicated to educating the public on astrology since 1958.

Consultations and readings available at https://www.timburnessastrologer.co.uk

About Tim
Musician (pop/rock/prog), astrologer for 30 years (the deeper stuff), care and support worker, other things. "We're all f***ed, so be nice." ~ Russell Brand

3 Responses to Sir Harry Kroto and C60 – my friend, some science, some astrology

  1. amanda says:

    Such an interesting read and a genius fellow to be remembered.

    • Tim says:

      Hi Amanda. Thank you, yes he really was quite a chap. It was an honour or even a blessing to have known him (he would probably have squirmed at that idea or cracked a self-deprecating joke haha), I know many felt the same way.

  2. Pingback: Astrologer Tim Burness | The Tim Burness Blog

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