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Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel Laureate, to Speak on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology March 16

Pioneering work by the English chemist Sir Harry Kroto led to the discovery in the 1980s of hollow molecules that look like soccer balls or geodesic domes, and have become known as C60 Buckminsterfullerenes.

These carbon molecules and their elongated cousins called nanotubes or Buckytubes could someday be the building blocks of electrical wires and circuitry so small as to be unimaginable. They also could lead to the development of super-strong materials that would revolutionize the construction of bridges and buildings.

The discovery of the C60 molecules won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1996 for Kroto and two colleagues, and advanced the fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Kroto’s latest work in these fields and his predictions about their applications will be topics of his public lecture, “2010: NanoSpace Odyssey,” sponsored by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 16, in the Big Blue Room at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
Mind-boggling advances in materials, medicine, pollution control, electronics and optics have been predicted as chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers press ahead with nanoscientific research.

Robots one thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair, for example, may someday fight cancers, blood clots and infections within the body. Similar robots may be created to build even tinier complex structures for use in manufacturing. The National Science Foundation believes tomorrow’s computer chips will store trillions of bits of information on a pinhead-sized structure produced by nanotechnology.

Nanoscience has gained a momentum during the past two decades that any trip to a library or search on the Internet would verify. A recent British television documentary on nanoscience, which Kroto helped to produce, was called, “The Next Big Thing.”

Kroto’s visit precedes by only three weeks a lecture at ODU by a physicist with expertise in nanoscience. Horst L. Stormer, professor of physics at Columbia University and co-winner of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1998, will be the keynote speaker at university’s Portal to New Worlds: 2nd Annual Research Exposition April 6, also at the Constant Center.

Richard Gregory, dean of the College of Sciences, said the college’s various departments use nanoscience and nanotechnology in their research and that he has organized an interdisciplinary “nano-committee” to help promote the fields.

Work in nanoscience at Old Dominion includes research by a group of scientists led by X. Nancy Xu, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Her fields of emphasis include bionanotechnology and bionanomaterial. The ODU research group is studying chemical and biological reactions in real-time at the single-molecule level, with aims to unravel mysteries that inhibit understanding of diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

Karl H. Schoenbach, ODU professor and eminent scholar of electrical and computer engineering, has helped to develop a process that applies 10-billionth-of-a-second pulses of electricity to destroy individual tumor cells. Schoenbach and scientists working with him want to destroy cancer cells without destroying surrounding cells.

“Nano” means one billionth, so a nanosecond is a billionth of a second and a nanometer is a billionth of a meter or a millionth of a millimeter. The prefix describes practices of science and technology in which individual atoms and molecules are the focus of research and manipulation.
Today’s manufacturing processes such as casting, grinding and lithography are crude by comparison to the theoretical promise of nanotechnology. In conventional processes, huge groupings of atoms are moved or arranged rather haphazardly to make desired products. With nanotechnology, individual atoms and molecules are precisely manipulated in order to introduce or maximize desired qualities in the resulting structures.

Bionanotechnology and biomimetic nanotechnology involve the application of physical sciences at the nanometer scale to biological measurement and manipulation.

These technologies could produce molecules that would stick to and disable toxins such as those used in biowarfare. The day may come when a single detector within a human body could recognize and fight a wide array of toxins, cancer cells and other pathogens.

Kroto, the son of German émigrés, was born and raised in England. He earned his doctorate in chemistry in 1964 from the University of Sheffield.

He spent two years with the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada, and another year at Bell Labs in the U.S. before returning to England. He was at the University of Sussex for 37 years, becoming a professor in 1985 and a Royal Society Research Professor in 1991. He joined the faculty of Florida State University last year when, at age 65, he was facing a mandatory retirement in England that would have made it difficult for him to get grants and continue research there.

In 2001 Kroto won the Royal Society’s prestigious Michael Faraday Award for public communication of science. He has championed the use of popular media to explain science and technology, and is a Nobel laureate who often lectures to children’s groups.