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Season 2012 Episode 12.05.12

Nanotech's Next Frontier: Initiative Brings Disciplines Together for Pioneering Discoveries

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The word “nanos” is Greek for dwarf, and over time “nano” has come to refer to anything small, like the iPod nano. In science, however, it has a very precise definition: 10-9, or a billionth. An electronic chip based on nanometer scale pores designed to study the properties of single biomolecules Image credit: Jacob Rosenstein and Prof. Kenneth Shepard Nanoscience, then, involves working with the tiniest components in nature. Researchers can examine and build materials one atom or molecule at a time, allowing them to probe the fundamental nature of matter and invent materials with startling new characteristics. It has enormous implications for better electronics, new medical devices and the development of alternative energy sources. “The development of this new technology over the past decade has brought us to the edge of fantastic new discoveries,” said Michael Purdy, the University’s executive vice president of research. “This is revolutionary. That means that Columbia has to be at the lead, just as we have been in nuclear physics and as we are in climate change.” Nanoscience also involves an interdisciplinary effort on an unprecedented scale. In chemistry, Professor Colin Nuckolls focuses on designing and synthesizing new types of molecules with interesting electronic properties that often change at the nanoscale. A founding member of Columbia’s Nanoscience Center, he also is a principal investigator for Columbia’s Energy Frontier Research Center, where he collaborates with engineers, physicists and chemists to create technology to increase solar cell efficiency. More:moreless

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