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Posted: February 8, 2010
Birthplace of nanotechnology to host October symposium
(Nanowerk News) In the quarter century since five men had their "Aha!" moment in Houston, the buckminsterfullerene molecule has become the vanguard of a revolution. Nanotechnology is already changing life on Planet Earth, and its potential is only beginning to be realized.
On Oct. 11-13, the best minds in carbon nanotechnology will gather at Rice University for a technical symposium during the Year of Nano, a series of events at the university celebrating the 25th anniversary of nano's big bang.
The buckminsterfullerene was the first molecule to be discovered in the class of materials that subsequently became known as fullerenes. It consists of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a sphere that looks remarkably similar to geodesic domes invented by the architect Buckminster Fuller. As it also resembles a soccer ball, it quickly gained the nickname "buckyball."
The discovery set off a worldwide effort to develop practical uses for nanotechnology that continues today. Key to its rapid development was the discovery in 1991 of the carbon nanotube, an elongated version of the buckyball about a billionth of a meter wide and tougher than steel that has already found uses in many products, from baseball bats and batteries to pharmaceuticals and solar cells.
The symposium will feature four of the five men whose brainstorming session led to the original discovery: Robert Curl, Sir Harold Kroto, James Heath and Sean O'Brien. (The fifth, Richard Smalley, for whom Rice's Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology is named, died in 2005. He was a University Professor and the Gene and Norman Hackerman Chair of Chemistry at Rice.)
Smalley, Curl and Kroto won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their breakthrough. Heath and O'Brien were Rice graduate students working on the project.
Curl is University Professor Emeritus and Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences at Rice. Kroto is the Francis Eppes Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Florida State University. Heath is the Elizabeth W. Gilloon Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. O'Brien is vice president of process engineering at MEMtronics.
They will discuss their discovery on the first day of the October symposium, which will include sessions on nanotechnology's history as well as state-of-the-art nanotech applications in medicine, energy, photonics, electronics, aerospace, materials science, the environment and quantum research. Nanotech's implications for business and policymakers will also be discussed.
The symposium will feature talks by a number of nanotechnology pioneers, including:
Andreas Hirsch, Organic Chemistry Chair at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg.
Phaedon Avouris, an IBM Fellow and manager of Nanometer Scale Science and Technology at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in New York.
Hongjie Dai, the J.G. Jackson-C.J. Wood Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University.
Millie Dresselhaus, Institute Professor and professor of physics and electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Marvin Cohen, University Professor at the University of California-Berkeley and a senior faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Andre Geim, professor of condensed matter physics at the University of Manchester.
Morinobu Endo, professor of electrical and electronic engineering, Faculty of Engineering at Shinshu University.
Donald Huffman, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Arizona.
"This will be a gathering of the thought leaders in carbon nanotechnology – not just the Nobel team but also eight of the most prominent nano researchers in the world," said Wade Adams, director of the Smalley Institute. "That we're able to get them together to reflect on their work, the work of others and where the field is going is extraordinary."
The Year of Nano will also celebrate the life of Smalley, whose series of advances in bulk nanotube production made possible the widespread use of nanotechnology by researchers and industry; his vision of an energy-efficient future continues to drive scientists at Rice.
"This is going to be a happy, joyful and exciting event that's only dampened by the fact that one of the most prominent people in this field is missing," Adams said. "It was Rick who advocated for and led an international revolution in thinking about nanotechnology. It was Rick who had the great vision of nanotechnology as the key to solving the most pressing problems for humanity, especially for medicine and energy.
"We'll celebrate this occasion in Rick's honor. It'll be a party he would have loved to attend."