Nobel Prize-winning Sheffield University graduate Professor Sir Harry Kroto returned to the city to enthuse 50 pupils from local schools about science.
Sir Harry was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1996 for his discovery of a new form of carbon molecule, known as Buckminsterfullerene - or buckyballs – because they resemble the geodesic dome structure created by the architect Buckminster Fuller.
The molecules are made of pentagons and hexagons with carbon atoms at each corner and also resemble the design for of footballs used widely since the 1970s.
Pupils from St Michael’s School in Barnsley and Birley School in Sheffield, made their own models of the buckyball, using special kits, comparing them with other carbon molecules such as the graphite used in pencils and diamond.
They also took part in a workshop organised by the University Department of Chemistry, entitled Polymer Slime, donning lab coats and rolling up their sleeves to create brightly coloured polymer slime which demonstrated how small molecules could be joined together to form long chain polymers.
The workshops form part of a series of events with participating schools. The events are organised by the University’s Outreach and Access team.
Before the pupils’ visit, Outreach staff and chemistry students visited the schools to run preparatory science-based sessions linked to molecules.
Sir Harry said: “In the buckyball workshops we find that even six-year-old children have no problem at all grasping the ideas of algebra and very, very big numbers when presented the right way, along with hands-on model building which involves a fascinating example of scientific discovery.
“It’s crucial that we encourage the curiosity which is innate in small children and so enable them as they grow up to understand the advanced technologies on which modern everyday life depends. After all, although knowledge does not guarantee good decisions, common sense suggests that wisdom is an unlikely consequence of ignorance.”