The Future of Nanotechnology

The Future of Nanotechnology


[LISA] Looking broadly, or perhaps narrowly,
either way is fine, what are you excited about with respect to the potential for
nanotechnology to address challenges in the future? [CELIA] I can almost not think of a
problem in the world that isn’t potentially tackled by a nano solution
and I think that it’s really important, and the NNI has been doing this for
some time, to articulate those challenges in such a way that the research
community can roll up its sleeves and really you know start tackling those
problems. So the priorities of any particular administration or you know if
you look out at the world, those are going to, may be at a very high level be
common, public health and clean water and energy for all that’s affordable and so
on, these are problems that are going to be with us forever in a sense. Trying to
put them in sort of the hands of the scientists in a way that they can make
some move towards solving them I think is often the challenge and and that’s
where agencies that have a mission like DOE and so on NIH and others I think
have a role to play in connecting those societal challenges to their research
communities. [SEAN] More broadly the energy landscape is a critically important area
where nanomaterials is having an impact and needs to expand its impact. The best
electron that we use is the one we don’t use, right? So in terms of efficiency
there’s tremendous gains to be made still there using nanomaterials as
there is on the creation of energy. One area we didn’t really talk about is
biological systems. There’s been a tremendous amount of work in
nanoparticles and nanostructures in the biological world and that’s an area
where in terms of medicines, in terms of mimicking of biological systems,
there’s still a lot of work that can be done and a lot more impact to be had. [MARCIE] Yeah and I still think that there’s a lot to do in nanotech. I feel like in the
last 15 years we’ve had a lot of applications in nanotech, but especially
at the beginning a lot of the focus was understanding the physics and figuring
out how to make the nanotechnology. But now we’re transitioning to the point
where yes there’s still a lot of science being done, but there’s more and more
work on using that nanotechnology to make a difference. And I think it’s
really important that people recognize that in order for the United States to
really capitalize on the investment that we’ve done in the past to understand the
physics, we need to keep supporting this community so that we can then monetize
all the work that we’ve done and apply it to different areas. And so you
asked what areas in particular I see and I think we need to focus on some of the
bigger challenges left in the world to solve and which ones can be solved by
more materials and better materials. And I think two of the biggest issues are
energy and environment and medicine. So I’m very excited about both of those
areas and the part that nanotech has to play in that. For energy and the
environment, I see batteries as being an important
space that nanotech can really help with. And for medicine, there’s a whole bunch
of areas that we can help by providing nanotech. So in medicine people are using
nanotechnology for example to deliver drugs more effectively. And I mentioned
our biosensors, so being able to detect more sensitivity what’s happening in our
body. So imagine if every time you went to the restroom you got a full reading
of how your body is doing and it can tell you things like you’re dehydrated,
you should drink a little more, you’re a little low on electrolytes, you
should make sure you eat a banana, or it gives you indications like ooh you
better go see a doctor something’s going on with your thyroid. So that’s one thing
I’m really excited about that nanotech can really make an impact on is medicine.
Both in the diagnostics and the delivery of medicine. [LEONARDO] Well I may be biased, but for scientists of my generation, I truly believe the
energy challenge is the challenge we have to face. So how do we provide energy
with a lower carbon footprint while growing world population. That’s where I
feel nanotechnology may be and could be actually a great enabler. The way I see
the future is we will have to attack the energy problem from many angles. So we
will have to build a portfolio of solutions and maybe each of the solutions
will change dependent on geography, depending on the population or the
specific environment where the technologies solution has to be deployed.
It feels like CO2 capture, CO2 conversion into fuel and chemicals,
conversion of natural gas into valuable products, energy storage, there are three
critical areas that if we make progress we can actually have a positive impact on
the overall energy system and in all these cases mastering and understanding
how to deploy nanotechnologies at scale will be crucial. [JEFF] I mean there are many. I would say in no particular order, just a few, one is just
replacing the transistor. Right now we are working with transistor
technology that was developed in 60s and 70s. So we’ve miniaturized it, actually due to advances in nanotechnology, but it’s
gotten to its limit. So in terms of what will a transister look like in 20 years
I think nanoscience is going to provide the forefront tool to address that
problem. One of the possible replacements, probably not in 20 years but beyond,
would be quantum computing. Right now we have quantum computers that are strung
together with a few dozen qubits,k but the qubit I think is far from
optimized. And it’s not even clear at this point what long term might be the
preferred qubit in the quantum computer in the future. And I think
understanding you know how energy is dissipated in qubits and how they might
retain their state really through a nanoscale understanding of the materials
and their properties at low temperatures nanoscience is going to play a huge role
in that. Another area beyond information
technology is energy. I think one in particular is energy storage, batteries
for example, understanding how batteries operate at the nanoscale and developing
materials for example electrolytes that are not liquid and aren’t flammable and
are safer and you are able to sort have a greater capacity for energy and are
charged faster, those kind of advances in technology and batteries are going to be
helped by nanoscience. Better harvesting energy from the Sun by maybe converting
sunlight directly to chemical fuel. Much like a leaf so like an artificial leaf.
Understanding how to do that is going to involve nanoscience. [QILIN] There’s one
particular challenge I’m very interested in addressing. And that is the aging
water infrastructure in our large cities. I live in a large city and I see how our
water infrastructure is aging. We rely on these massive infrastructure systems to
support potable water and to collect wastewater. Aging of these systems
obviously can cause very expensive and sometimes devastating problems and that
could directly a threat our public health. But thinking that we live in the
age of big data and smart cities, at the same time our water systems are not
really very smart at all so we’re really not taking advantage of some of the
other technologies that have been used in other infrastructure systems. And I
think the reason for that is there is a terrible lack of real-time sensing
capabilities that allow us to monitor the health of the water infrastructure
system as well as the quality of water that’s in that system. But I strongly
believe that nanotechnology can help our water systems become smarter with distributed nanosensors that can detect damages in the
infrastructure and can identify water quality problems such as the occurrence
of microbial pathogens, provide much-needed data for better management
of these precious assets. [MARK TUOMINEN] Because nanotech was new to everybody in the
beginning, the things that people could think of using it for were to improve
what they were already doing. In other words to make computer chips better, to
make materials stronger, things like that. But now that a lot of progress has been
made in that area and as people went on, the realization that there are
altogether new applications unimagined before or it thought not possible, that might
be possible in an Apollo type of way. And there’s several of these. One I think
that’s really probably going to be underlying something that affects
everyone is in the area of sustainability. In other words we make a
lot of stuff in the world and we make things that are absolutely needed for
our survival and we make things that are helpful for our convenience, but when we
make things, you know, in the beginning we’d really just try to figure out a way
to make them that is reliable and reproducible. And sometimes those
processes consume a lot of energy and a lot of materials. And so one of the
things that I think nanotechnology will play a role in is the grand challenge of
being able to manufacture more sustainable more and more over time. And
it’s not always been a priority. I know it’s an NNI priority, one of the key
initiative areas is sustainable manufacturing, but it’s really something
that I think we need to work on more. I think the next generations of
scientists and engineers that are coming along want to work on this because it’s
an investment in the future, their future, and I think it’s one that we can
prioritize. [SANIYA] Where I think we will perhaps see it the
most, where it will be the most evident to us, will be in health and medicine and
that’s actually not even an area that that I am in quite yet. The other one I
do think is in energy as it relates to materials and materials development. We
are becoming more and more knowledgeable and skilled about how to structure
materials at the nanoscale in order to get materials to do what we want them to
do. And in energy that might mean, for example, converting one form of energy
into another, converting a form of energy that we’re not that interested in using
into one like electricity that we are very interested in using. And so I think
that the impact of nanotechnology on materials development and the new
materials impact for our energy efficiency, our abilities to convert
energy into forms that we use most, that’s going to be really profound for
us. And we have I mean I haven’t been at this for too long I’m fairly early in my
career, but what I’ve been able to see in just the past 10 years related to the
impact of nanotechnology on materials development has been really amazing. And
I think that we are at the point now where we’re seeing some of those
technologies get out into society. And I don’t know that everyone realizes
that there’s nanotechnology embedded in them, so I hope they realize that these
new materials with new capabilities have this nanotechnology aspect to them. [MARK REED] Nano is going to have a tremendous impact on energy. One of the examples of quantum
dots for more efficient LEDs, various types of nanomaterials will impact many
different areas that are related to energy, both from making more efficient
water purification which saves on energy, to be able to make more efficient and
lighter materials. And a lot of that work has already started. I think one of the
grand challenges will also be in environmental areas. Water
purification in fact a project I’m also working on now to be able to understand
how one can make much more efficient separators, purifiers, using various types
of nanomaterials and nano structures I think is one of the big challenges. [JULIA] I guess there are a lot of advances in the world of quantum.
So that’s quite nano, that’s deeply in the nano. So making use of nano-sized
dimension in creating nanomaterials to interact and couple with light. So the
applications in photonics, so being able to create better filters, being able to
create materials that have band gaps in, they have artificial band gaps and
therefore are able to manipulate light in being able to image much more
precisely as one huge advance. Another advance would be quantum dots
in lasers. So being able to illicit lasing out of, you know, using different
colors out of materials that wouldn’t have been possible to do before. So all
that light coupling into a nanomaterial interactions are certainly very very
impactful and I think are being practiced already. Definitely in the last
15 years for sure our ability to fabricate devices has improved
tremendously and we’re now making much more
sophisticated circuits, much more sophisticated processors, that are also
much smaller. So I think that uncovering the quantum phenomena and
trying to make use of it in the sense of making it serve our purpose either to
make much faster computers that are operating not by the current,
by spintronics, so that’s spin transfer or by photonics, so using light
transport. That is an outlook for the future and so this is something that has
been certainly been developed in the last decade or so very very intensely. Thank you for joining us today for this
special 15 year anniversary edition of Stories from the NNI. If you would
like to learn more about nanotechnology please visit nano.gov or email us at
[email protected] and check back here for more stories.

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