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