Monday, June 14, 2010

Kavli Prizes for Nanoscience

This post is a bit late, but real life has been busy recently. The Kavli Foundation recently announced their 2010 Kavli Prize for Nanoscience, which they awarded to Don Eigler and Nadrian Seeman, for "their development of unprecedented methods to control matter on the nanoscale". As in their previous 2008 award to Louis Brus and Sumio Iijima, this prize is richly deserved by the awardees.

Don Eigler ran the scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) research group at IBM Almaden, where he and co-workers constructed incredibly stable STMs that functioned in ultrahigh vacuum and at low temperatures. With the resulting stability and surface cleanliness, Eigler et al. were able to demonstrate manipulation of matter on the atomic scale, giving us several of the most iconic images in nanoscience. Eigler's intellectual progeny have gone on to many faculty positions and trained generations of practitioners in the art and science of working at the atomic scale.

Nadrian Seeman had the foresight to realize what an incredible toolkit nature has provided for us in the form of DNA. While most people are familiar with double-helix structure of DNA, Seeman and co-workers developed techniques to make nanoscale DNA building blocks that can assemble into complex, three-dimensional structures. This is DNA as a construction tool rather than DNA as a carrier of genetic information. Who knows what the end result will be of this capability - I have been very impressed by some related work.


sylow said...

But it looks overdue for some reason.. The cited work was in late 1990's at the heyday of surface science.

twiffe said...

Thanks for this post. Congrats to Don Eigler, who is in my academic family tree. I wouldn't be doing the experiments that I do today if he hadn't successfully written 'IBM' with Xe atoms.

Douglas Natelson said...

Bear in mind that the Kavli Foundation just started awarding these in 2008, and this is only the second set.

Pizza Perusing Physicist said...

Professor Natelson,

With regards to the DNA nanotechnology and use of DNA as a construction tool, could you please comment on the possibility of using DNA to simulate condensed matter lattice systems? I know from reading the Wikipedia article that people have tried and had various degrees of success in creating DNA nanotubes, 2D lattices, discrete 3D objects, and extended 3D lattices, among other artificial structures.

I know that the AMO community has for quite some time now been using cold atom systems to experimentally "simulate" condensed matter and statistical mechanics models (such as the Hubbard model, Anderson model, etc...) to a near unprecedented degree of control and precision. What are the possibilities, if any, of using such DNA construction to add similar types of insight to condensed matter physics? Have people thought about it?

Douglas Natelson said...

Tahir - While DNA is a great building block for making structures, it's not well set up for the kind of things that the AMO community is trying to do. The AMO optical lattice systems have two main virtues: they are very clean (meaning that they can be described by a small number of parameters) and very tunable. DNA structures, on the other hand, are quite complicated. The molecules are surrounded by water and dissolved ions, and they're also floppy. Moreover, the way electrons and ions move around in DNA structures tends to be complicated and incoherent, in the sense that quantum coherent effects are not important while thermally driven processes are. Both AMO lattices and DNA structures are cool, but they're really different.

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