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Pupils Build Buckyballs in Workshop with Sir Harry Kroto

Wednesday, 09 July 2014

Old Boy Sir Harry Kroto returned to Bolton School to promote chemistry to primary school pupils. Four-hundred Year 5 pupils attended the workshop session, which took place in the Sports Hall – the only place large enough to accommodate such a big audience!

Sir Harry attended Bolton School in the 1950s and spoke briefly about his time as a pupil. He told the children about his keen interest in art and graphic design, his love of sport and music, and even mentioned performing in one of Shakespeare’s history plays alongside Sir Ian McKellen!

Dr Yates, the Boys’ Division Head of Science who arranged the visit with assistance from the Ogden Trust, said, “There’s something for everyone here – sport, art, science. Some of the children have done research on this Nobel Prize winner before they came to the session, but now, having heard about him as a young child here, they also see him as a human being. It really helps to get them engaged!”

Sir Harry won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry along with the rest of his team in 1996 for the discovery of the C60 molecule, Buckminsterfullerene.

To help the pupils start thinking about the structure of Buckminsterfullerene – nicknamed ‘buckyballs’ for their football-like shape – Sir Harry began with some basic algebra and geometry. He asked the children to count the corners, edges and faces on various shapes and put these into a basic algebraic formula that would work for any three-dimensional shape. He worked his way up from cubes and pyramids to finally reach the complex shape of a football. Once the pupils had counted or calculated the number of corners, faces and edges, he explained that each of the sixty corners of the ‘football’ represents a single carbon molecule in C60, hence the name.

Using the football shape as a guide, Sir Harry then set the children off building their own model ‘buckyballs’ from kits which were supplied by the Ogden Trust.

Sir Harry moved through the Sports Hall, offering assistance to those children who needed or asked for it. Some of the Sixth Form boys and girls had also volunteered to help with the event and offered their advice and expertise to the children as well. By the end of the session, each child had built a ‘buckyball’ which they were allowed to take home!

This was a great workshop that really got the primary school children engaged with both mathematics and chemistry. The model-building was a fun way to explain the chemical composition of Buckminsterfullerene in terms they were able to understand.

“It is always nice to come back and speak to young people,” said Sir Harry. “I would like them to get a feeling of satisfaction, making something by their own hand which they think is elegant and beautiful, and is useful.”

Sir Harry was delighted to learn that this year some pupils have engaged with GEOSET, which stands for Global Educational Outreach for Science, Engineering and Technology. This project, which Sir Harry had a hand in creating and is very passionate about, aims to collect a globally-created store of freely accessible, online educational material which has been put together by people who are passionate about the subject they are presenting. The Bolton School pupils’ presentations will be uploaded to the GEOSET website alongside lectures from university professors, postgraduates, undergraduates, teachers, other high school pupils.

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Sir Harry Kroto with two of the Sixth Form helpers and a Junior Girls

Sir Harry Kroto with two of the Sixth Form helpers and a Junior Girls' School pupil

Helping a girl to build her buckyball

Helping a girl to build her buckyball

Lots of children tried to balance their buckyball on their head!

Lots of children tried to balance their buckyball on their head!