2007 Kavli Directors Symposium: Nanoscience

A Video Presentation


Nanoscience Panelists

Hans Mooij - Director of the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology

Robert C. Richardson - Director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science

Axel Scherer - Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at the California Institute of Technology

David Weitz - Co-Director (with George Whitesides) of the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology at Harvard University

MODERATOR: Alan Alda - actor, producer, filmmaker and author


Panel Summary

In 1959, Richard Feynman declared “There’s plenty of room at the bottom” and inspired a new science of the very small. Today, according to the Kavli directors who participated on this special panel discussion, while nanoscience is a burgeoning field, it is really only starting to plumb the potential uses of matter at the atomic and sub-atomic scale. It also remains a field whose future is determined in large part by the tools available to nanoscientists. As panelist Robert C. Richardson put it, “Our field seeks to answer the questions of what are the limits to our ability to see whole things." Consequently, says Richardson, advances in microscopy “move the science forward.” These advances have already been critical, as noted by Axel Scherer, who credits ultra-precise lithography with advancing the “tool-driven endeavor” of nanotechnology.

Along with discussing the potential today and tomorrow in nanoscience, panelists discuss some near- and longer-term benefits that might emerge from the field. In the near term, Scherer points to the development of micro-fluidic diagnostic chips that can analyze individual cells and possibly detect cancer-related abnormalities. Hans Mooij looks further ahead to the possibility of computers based on the behavior of elementary particles in quantum space. David Weitz notes that nanoscientists might learn from the study of the natural nanoscale “motors” in living organisms and build devices that work in the same way. The panel also discusses the fears and fantasies that nanoscience inspires, as well as responds to notes of caution, such as the possibility that modified cells can lead to either miraculous cures or environmental nightmares. Working with nature at the nanoscale, says Scherer, requires an “ethical backbone.”

2007 Symposium Overview:

Overview of the September, 2007 Symposium:
Panel Discussions on Observational Astrophysics, Theoretical Astrophysics, Nanoscience and Neuroscience

How did the universe begin? What is matter really like in its smallest form? What makes us truly human? Such are the profound questions that face us at the limits of our scientific knowledge. A distinguished group of scientists – directors of the 15 Kavli Institutes – met in Santa Barbara, Calif., in September 2007 to share their insights on the great remaining scientific mysteries and humankind’s progress toward solving them.

The day-long symposium was a first for the Foundation. Never before had all the Institute directors been together in one place. It was a special event for the scientists, too, who were encouraged to ignore the narrow focus and formalities of most research symposia. Here they could – and did – talk not just about the latest research but also about the future of their science. As Kavli Foundation President David Auston explained, they were asked “to look ahead … and not only to look ahead and be prospective, but also to be speculative and provocative.

The symposium consisted of four panel discussions covering neuroscience, nanoscience, observational astrophysics and theoretical astrophysics. Moderating each discussion was actor, producer, filmmaker and author Alan Alda, whose interest in and advocacy for science has earned him the Public Service Award of the National Science Board.