by Jerry Bergman
Richard (Rick) Errett Smalley (1943–2005), M.A., Ph.D. (Princeton), was the Hackerman Professor of Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy at Rice University.1 He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for his discovery of (and his research on) a totally new allotrope (form) of carbon. This comprised unique soccerball-shaped molecules he named buckminsterfullerenes, nicknamed buckyballs—see box below. Although he died of cancer shortly after his conversion from agnosticism to Christianity, he has left us a remarkable testimony to his faith.
Rick Smalley was called a ‘rock star’ in technology circles. He made several major breakthroughs in his field of nanotechnology research.2 Many researchers even date the dawn of the modern nanotechnology field to Dr Smalley’s buckyball discovery. Professor Smalley’s many awards, besides a Nobel Prize, include eight honorary doctor of science degrees, including one from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.3
He literally learned about Darwinism at his mother’s knee, a woman who “fell in love with science” as a young adult.4 Smalley spent hours with his mother reading and doing science projects such as collecting and examining single-celled organisms from a local pond with a microscope. Skeptical of religion most of his life, Dr Smalley became a Christian only in his last years, partly due to his intensive study of intelligent design.
As a scientist Dr Smalley was searching for answers that made scientific sense. He at first could not accept the idea that the Bible was the word of God and struggled with the question of whether science was compatible with Christianity.5 An important step in his spiritual path was an intelligent design lecture presented at his university. He was “a stickler for scientific credibility and integrity” and filled “with questions about biological evolution, or about Bible passages that he presumed were in conflict with science … ”.4….
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