Type Talk. Marty Jopson. Event description. About the speaker.
Atoms and Molecules (Invisible Worlds)
Latecomers will be admitted into the gallery. Book signing. Copies of Marty's books will be available for purchase and signing after the talk. Event type Ri events programme. Join the Ri Become an Ri Member. Become a member. The other elements found can be divided into two main groups — major elements and trace elements. The human body functions as a result of a large number of chemical reactions involving compounds of all of these elements. Although many of the elements are required in only very small amounts, they do play a very important role in keeping the body working effectively:.
Too little of any given essential element can result in ill health and, if left untreated, could result in death:. Scientific knowledge is never absolute or certain. As scientists discover more about essential elements needed in the diet, old beliefs may have to change in light of new evidence. This dimension range bridges the atom and molecule at one end and bulk materials at the other. The reason for this is that the forces at the center of these interactions, the forces that result in the characteristic properties, are fundamentally nanoscale in nature.
And the property changes at the nanoscale are not simply small. They can be dramatically different—new properties emerge, ones to which we did not previously have access at either the macro or micro scales. In these devices, electrons are simply made to tunnel through an insulating region at low voltages. It happens because of the wave nature of the electron and the ability of the wave to penetrate small distances—nanoscale distances—in an insulator. Such fundamental properties as melting temperature, magnetization, charge capacity, etc.
Because of this wave nature, interactions between electrons and light can also change at the nanoscale—a property that medieval glass blowers utilized dramatically in stained glass. Stained glass often uses nanoscale particles of gold or silver. The electrons in gold or silver nanoparticles interact with photons of light creating the color.
The light that is carried in optical fibers that makes fast data communication possible is generated using lasers that are very efficient light sources through enhanced electron-photon interactions arising at the nanoscale in artificially created quantum wells. Even the optical fiber uses light confinement at the nanoscale to move it with limited loss over long distances.
Chemical reactions result from interactions between atoms and molecules in their neutral, excited, or charged states.
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The reacting species need to come close together and have energetically favorable pathways for the reactions to be effective. Catalysis is central to providing this effectiveness: a catalyst, while chemically unchanged, provides a low-energy path to increasing reaction rates. It does this by mediating via a surface where molecules come together, attach, and react with each other in energetically favorable conditions, leaving the catalyst undisturbed at the end of the reaction. As one approaches smaller dimensions, the surface area to volume ratio increases—a nanoscale effect. A significant non-linear enhancement in this simple property makes catalysis enormously effective.
Hydrogen is derived from methane in natural gas using nickel oxide. Magnetite, a form of iron oxide, is a material whose nanoscale properties have been utilized in nature for orders of magnitude longer than the glass blowers. Magnetite is magnetic. As a collection of nanoscale crystals—arranged as chains, thereby allowing the collection to become a highly sensitive magnet—it endows organisms with the property of magnetotaxis, the ability to discriminate the magnetic field lines of the Earth.
Many animals use this magnetic information for navigation, including pigeons, loggerhead turtles, and spiny lobsters. In the evolutionary process, nature evolved ways by which inorganic nanocrystals could be formed in largely organic systems, something we are still learning to do controllably in the laboratory. Another interesting nanoscale example from nature is the iridescent color of some butterflies and peacock feathers. These are nanoscale optical interference effects from the three-dimensional structures that nature builds, and that, in the laboratory, we have only recently taken the first steps in recreating.
Biological phenomena tend to be immensely complex, resulting as they do from a combination of the randomness of events and a large number of interactions that happen between larger numbers of entities, under the influence of local forces. The phenomena are sensitive to initial conditions, small perturbations, have a large number of interacting components, and often a large number of pathways by which the system can evolve. If a human has insufficient energy input, i.
Unlike much of what we do in physics, chemistry, and engineering, this is immensely more complex, involving a variety of interactions at various scales.
Marty Jopson's invisible worlds
The last few decades set the stage for the development of condensed matter science and engineering where small, personalized tools became pervasive, and where the ability to control and observe at the nanoscale became available to a large community. These tools allow us to assemble, manipulate, control, probe, image, and look at a myriad of properties at the nanoscale. Of the tools, the scanning tunneling microscope and the atomic force microprobe have garnered the most press. But, just as significant have been many of the fabrication tools that let us define, pattern, and connect at the nanoscale dimension: new techniques for visualization, tools that allow us to self-assemble monolayers on surfaces, tools that let us synthesize, and in general tools that let us do this reproducibly, cheaply, and quickly.
We can now synthesize atom by atom, and we can also sculpt to get down to near the atomic level. We can probe phenomena that exist at this scale through a large toolset that gives us a variety of views. And because the properties change dramatically when one gets down to the smallest units, we can leverage those properties by utilizing assembling and sculpting techniques. This in turn has made it possible for a large community to reach down into the nanoscale world. The nanoscale is a dimension, not a discipline, and the properties at the nanoscale show up in and are connected to all the disciplines.
The profound impact of this, through the open large-scale participation of the community and the breadth of disciplines, has been that a large new area of interesting and exciting work has grown at the interfaces.
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Engineering, physical, and life-sciences have commingled like never before. And this has led to immense progress and utility that could not have been foreseen even a decade ago. A few examples of this breadth, at the heart of human existence, will illustrate this point.
Let us look at some of the challenges facing the world. Major ones revolve around being sustainable—a large complex community of humans and millions of other species living sustainably, i. Energy, better health, equity and alleviation of poverty, education and conservation all immediately come to mind as unifying themes for sustainability. Some sustainability-related questions immediately arise: can we lower energy consumption—in transportation, lighting, food production, and other facets of living by recreating our environment heating, cooling, and aesthetics and communications in information exchange, in computing, and all the mobile instruments?
Can we help with water problems by producing clean water, removing heavy metal impurities such as arsenic and reducing water use?
Can we improve agriculture productivity by producing plants for healthier diets that are more disease resistant and that consume less energy and water? Can we provide more efficient carbon sequestration through physical and biological approaches? Can we improve management of forestry resources by using less paper and introducing better paper production techniques?
Can we improve on health care by introducing cheaper and earlier diagnosis, detect contamination, cure diseases, improve on treatment or slow degenerative diseases, and attack the most pernicious of the diseases—malaria and cancer? Nanotechnology holds promise for addressing all of these sustainability-related issues. Strength of materials and the properties of surfaces of materials are in use all around us. Polymers, whose widespread industrial-scale synthesis started in mid-twentieth century, became ubiquitous by the turn of the century.
Plastics and polymers achieve their properties through surface interactions of chains of hydrocarbons. Both of these are affected by new nanotechnology inventions.
Carbon nanotubes, based as they are on a strong carbon bond—a different configuration than that of diamond—provide strong intrinsic and surface interaction properties; they can withstand stronger forces than steel of similar dimensions. Carbon nanotubes are now introduced into plastics to make them more resilient, for example in sports equipment such as tennis rackets and golf clubs. Composites, such as concrete, fiberglass, and Kevlar are combined materials that achieve strength through the surface interactions.
Concrete can be made much lighter and still maintain its strength through use of cenospheres, the hollow alumina and silica structures akin to carbon buckyballs, found in the ash of coal power-plants. The strength of nanoscale material and the strong interface allows these composites to be stronger than was possible before.
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We mentioned catalysis, and its centrality to the ammonia production process, as one of the major breakthroughs at the turn of last century. Today, zeolites play a similar role. These are microporous solids that are efficient catalysts based on oxides of aluminum and silicon. Millions of tons of them help fracture petroleum into gasoline and numerous other hydrocarbons, making the impact of oil less environmentally destructive. Advances in nanotechnology seem likely to lead to major gains in energy production, energy consumption, communication, and health promotion.
Let us consider some notable developments in these areas. Fuel cells, batteries, photo-electro energy and electro-photo energy conversion are examples where efficiency improvements connected to energy are happening rapidly through new materials, thin membranes, and efficient conversion processes. Light sources made out of semiconductors are highly efficient, factors of ten better than the incandescent light bulb, and are reliable and longer lasting. We see them today in traffic lights, but we will see them increasingly in general lighting as issues of cost and of satisfying human color spectrum preferences are resolved.
Light sources are also being created from organic materials, though in this case, the challenge of achieving reliability is considerably higher. Photovoltaic generation is also benefiting from efficiencies realizable at the nanoscale. These cells use nanocrystalline titania, dies, and organic materials for electron transport to achieve a few percent of efficiency in energy conversion.
Titania is a material found in paint, sandpaper and many other places where its strength is utilized. It also absorbs photons efficiently and hence is also employed in suntan lotions. The new photovoltaic structures use low energy processes in fabrication, unlike the more popular current silicon photovoltaics, making the cost and energy used in fabricating them small. The enhanced surface interactions can be used to reduce contamination. Improved efficiency of electrochemical processes on the surface allows the arsenic to be efficiently scavenged with iron oxide nanoparticles.
Electronics, computing, and communications have benefited tremendously from the properties of the nanoscale, a scale where wave electron and the material interact in many ways to produce interesting properties.
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Consider, for example, the case of data storage. Every day humanity is creating more data than the total amount of data that was stored just twenty years ago. Non-volatile semiconductor storage is utilized in our cameras, phones, miniature music players, and for storing and exchanging information. These work because tunneling, a quantum mechanical phenomenon, takes place at the nanoscale.