Nobel winner who discovered 'buckyballs' dies at 62

Rice University professor Richard Smalley, who shared a 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of "buckyballs," has died of cancer at the age of 62, the university confirmed on Friday.

Buckyballs, short for buckminsterfullerenes, were a form of carbon that had 60 atoms arranged in a hollow sphere and whose discovery in 1985 opened the way for the development of the field of nanotechnology.

Smalley, fellow Rice chemist Robert Curl and British chemist Harold Kroto shared the prize for their work on buckyballs, which were named for architect and geodesic dome inventor Buckminster Fuller.

After winning the Nobel, Smalley became a strong advocate for the development of nanotechnology as a means of solving global problems, particularly in the field of energy.

"We are about to be able to build things that work on the smallest possible length scales, atom by atom, with the ultimate level of finesse," Smalley told the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 during testimony in support of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

"These little nanothings, and the technology that assembles and manipulates them - nanotechnology - will revolutionize our industries and our lives," he said.

Smalley became ill with cancer in 1999 and fought the disease for six years. He died on Friday at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston surrounded by family and friends, Reuters reports.