posted October 29, 2005

Remarks by Richard Smalley at 2005 Alumni Banquet

Dr. Richard Smalley, who died Friday, October 28, 2005, was presented the Hope College Distinguished Alumni Award in May, 2005. His declining heath prevented him for attending in person. He sent the following letter which was read at the Alumni Weekend banquet.

Hello from Texas:

As I write this I am at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center a few miles from my home in Houston, Texas. I am being infused with a modern miracle, a nanotechnological stroke of engineered genius called Rituxan. It is a monoclonal antibody that is part mouse, part human and with great purity and reliability targets the cancer cells in my body and marks them for graceful death. The motto of M. D. Anderson is "Making Cancer History", and I am convinced that within the next 20 years they and other scientists around the world will do just that: they will develop cures for the main forms of cancer that have plagued mankind since the dawn of history. I hope to see this all happen, and come back to Hope for my 60 th reunion to tell you all about it.

This is a magnificent time to be alive, to see these things happening in medicine and in so many other fields, and in my case to have the privilege of being a scientist in this Golden Era of Science. My own work with buckytubes is in a magnificently flowering mode right now. We just announced a new $15 million 4 year contract with NASA to develop what I like to call the "Armchair Quantum Wire," a continuous cable of buckytubes that we expect will conduct electricity 10 times better than copper yet have only one sixth the weight, a zero coefficient of thermal expansion, and a tensile strength greater than steel. If we succeed, we'll be able to rewire the world, replacing aluminum and copper in virtually every application, and permitting a vast increase in the capacity of the nation's electrical grid. That and the development of plug-in electric hybrid vehicles will enable us to wean ourselves away from gasoline for the bulk of our urban transportation needs, free us for dependency on middle east oil, and greatly improve the air quality in the cities throughout the world.

I like to point out that this Armchair Quantum Wire endeavor is a "Faith-Based Research Project". It is based on the faith that when God made the universe he wired into the laws of physics and chemistry a path to make this Armchair Quantum Wire, and to do it with great cleanliness and efficiency. If so, then all I have to do is go find that path that God put there in the beginning. With the vast knowledge we have assembled over the years of physics and chemistry, and the sensational new instruments that are now available, we ought to be able to find that path pretty quickly.

My short two years at Hope starting as a freshman in 1961 were immensely important to me. I went to chapel, studied religion, and attended church more than I had ever done before, and was with people who took to these issues seriously. I valued that greatly back then. Recently I have gone back to church regularly with a new focus to understand as best I can what it is that makes Christianity so vital and powerful in the lives of billions of people today, even though almost 2000 years have passed since the death and resurrection of Christ.

Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it's true. God did create the universe about 13.7 billion years ago, and of necessity has involved Himself with His creation ever since. The purpose of this universe is something that only God knows for sure, but it is increasingly clear to modern science that the universe was exquisitely fine-tuned to enable human life. We are somehow critically involved in His purpose. Our job is to sense that purpose as best we can, love one another, and help Him get that job done.

I wish I could be with you tonight. Thank you for the honor of the Distinguished Alumni Award. For all of us who have had the privilege of attending this great college, we know what it means to say "Hope is my Anchor."