Nanoscience is well on its way to establishing itself as one of the critical technologies of the 21st Century. Just as semiconductors gave rise to computers, smart phones, the Internet, medical devices, and an endless stream of consumer products, nanoscience is enabling the development of new technologies in fields as diverse as electronics, medicine, photonics, energy, and quantum physics. Nanoscale constructions provide this flexibility for two reasons. First, they are small and precise enough to interact with molecules in entirely new ways. Nanomedicines, for example, often encapsulate drugs in molecular packages decorated with segments of molecules that enable them to target specific organs and diseases, and, once there, convince those cells to ingest the medication. Metal-organic frameworks, complex molecules engineered to reduce energy use in chemical reactions and capture carbon emissions from combustion, are another example. Second, and more intriguingly, nanoscale devices are closer in size to electrons and photons, and may interact with them in ways that are fundamentally different from the behavior of larger objects. For example, metamaterials, arrays of nanoscale structures, can bend light around an object to make it appear invisible. Nanoscale electronics can exploit quantum phenomena, like electron spin, energy waves, and quantum states to capture, store, and process information. As these technologies and other emerging applications reach commercialization, they are certain to change nearly every sphere of life.
In an effort to spur the development of new energy-related technology, the federal government has established 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers. Scientists affiliated with the Kavli Prize or Kavli Institutes play leading roles in three of these EFRCs.
John Bowers is the Fred Kavli Chair in Nanotechnology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He also leads UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE). Founded in 2008, Bowers has helped the Institute get off to a fast start.
Nanoscience examines some of nature’s most remarkable engineering and nowhere is this engineering more exquisite than in the cell, where thousands of proteins work as tiny motors to power the processes of life.
One of the wonders of biology is how trillions of living parts in a human body work together constantly to produce reliable and predictable events. Caltech's Kavli Nanoscience Institute have devised a chip to analyze the sometimes surprising differences.