Sir Harry Kroto (1939–2016)

4 May, 2016

Harry KrotoThe British Humanist Association (BHA) reacted with sadness this weekend to news that its patron of many years, Professor Sir Harry Kroto, had died.

Harry began life in Cambridge in 1939, the child of German refugees fleeing the horrors of war. He spent his childhood further north, in Bolton, before deciding to study chemistry at the University of Sheffield, in 1961. By the 1990s, Harry was a distinguished chemist whose work had won him international recognition. In 1996, he was given a knighthood, and later that year he also won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his role in the discovery of C60 Buckminsterfullerene, a new form of carbon.

Harry was an ardent supporter of the humanist cause, and he dedicated a great deal of effort to campaigns to see a secular state in Britain. As a patron of the BHA, he supported numerous campaigns for a fairer society, particularly in education. He was a robust critic of ‘faith’ schools in particular, which he saw as corrosive to community cohesion and inimical to the aims of education.

In 2011, Harry helped to launch the BHA’s successful ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign. In 2014, Harry was among the famous names who called out the Prime Minister for his divisive ‘Christian country’ rhetoric, and later wrote to the Department for Education in the midst of the Birmingham schools controversy to call for a review of the place of religion in schools. Outside education, he also championed ethical causes such as the right to die, and was among those figures urging the Scottish Parliament to legalise assisted dying in 2015.

Discussing his reasons for supporting the BHA, Harry said:

‘I fully support the aims of the Association and am happy to do what I can to further them as I feel they focus on some of the serious issues that confront us now and will continue to confront us in the 21st century.

‘In these disturbing times in which the political leaders of the USA, UK, and Germany (Blair, Bush and Merkel) as well as countless organisations, using massive financial resources, strive to drag us all back towards the mind-set in which the Dark Ages were mired, the Champions of the Enlightenment are the freethinking Humanists. The challenge is however to maintain our democratic secular values, firmly set in doubt and rational argument, but still remain tolerant and steadfast in interactions with those who seek to undermine these values.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘Harry Kroto was someone who helped to change the face of science, but here at the BHA we knew him as a friend, and as someone who brought laughter and inspiration to our trustees and staff, with whom he was in regular contact. Harry Kroto’s legacy is one which will stand the test of time and I am confident that future generations will be able to look back on him as one of the greats, and as a standard-bearer for the values of the Enlightenment. We will all miss him dearly.’


The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The BHA has well over 150 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. The BHA’s President is the writer and comedian Shappi Khorsandi, who is supported by Vice Presidents Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor A C Grayling, and Polly Toynbee. For a full list of patrons, see