Robert Curl

Source: © Pacific Press Media Production Corp/Alamy Stock Photo

Robert Curl, who died in 2022, won the 1996 chemistry Nobel prize for his work on fullerenes

Robert ‘Bob’ Curl’s 1996 Nobel prize in chemistry medal, awarded for the joint discovery of fullerenes, has been sold at auction for over $440,000 (£352,000).

The medal, which is crafted from 18-carat gold and plated in 24-carat gold, was auctioned by Nate D Sanders on 28 March. A total of four bids were placed with the medal going for the final price of $442,891. The minimum guide price for the medal was $200,000.

This is one of the highest amounts a Nobel prize medal has been auctioned off for in recent years. Adolf Von Baeyer’s 1905 Nobel medal sold at auction for £203,000 on 13 December 2023 and, in the same week, Arne Tiselius’ medal, won in 1948, was sold for $125,000 (£99,000). George Olah’s Nobel medal awarded for work on carbocations was also sold at auction in 2023 for $250,000.

Curl's Nobel medal

Source: © Nate D Sanders Inc

Robert Curl’s 1996 chemistry Nobel medal is made of 18-carat gold and plated with 24-carat gold

A year earlier Walter Kohn’s award for the development of density functional theory sold for the slightly higher price of $460,000.

Curl, who died aged 88 on 3 July 2022, shared the 1996 prize with Harry Kroto and Richard Smalley. Together with graduate students James Heath, Yuan Liu and Sean O’Brien, they became the first to synthesise and identify the famous buckyball molecule after irradiating a graphite surface with laser pulses. This experiment created a carbon gas which then formed C60 and C70 molecules as it condensed.