Sir Harold Kroto

Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: The Chemistry of the 21st century


Abstract

In 1985 the properties and behaviour of as a solid material, appeared to be fairty well understood and it was not the prime focus of any new major fundamental initiatives. Then the molecule C60 Buckminsterfullerence, and its elongated the carbon nanotubes, were discovered and it suddenly became clear that our understanding of the factors and the dynamic behaviour of graphite and other sheet materials was very limited - especially at nanometerscale dimensions. It is furthermore worth keeping in the back of one’s mind the fact that the original dicsovery experiments, which were stimulated by earlier microwave spectroscopy and advances in the mid to late 1970’s only became possible when advanced experimental techniques for studying small refractory clusters had been developed in the early 1980’s. These had however been lurking undetected in fairly copious quantities in combustion and other carbon particle studies for decades and had escaped detection – amazingly- for some 30 years.

The discoveries have heralded a new era in materials technology and in particular the amazing nanotubes are a major focus of modern materials. These tubular structures, which may be ca a millionth of a millimeter in diameter may also be extremely - indeed they could be of unlimited length perhaps one day many miles. They present enorrious facilisation and analysis problems but when we eventually master their production, all the evidence suggests should be possible to create mechanical structures and electrical devices with amazing properties – mechanical strength close to the limit imposed by the chemical bond and electrical behaviour at the limit on our present understanding of electromagnetic phenomena. The latter properties are exciting that these structures offer some of the first plausible solutions to some of the problems posed by the luminatrisation of electronic devices which will be required in the development of molecular computers. These fascinating possibilities are responsible for the massive worldwide research effort into the production and behaviour of these novel materials, which have already resulted in many fascinating results.

New materials studies in the Sussex Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Centre (SNNC, www.nano.sussex.ac.uk) have convered a range: novel electrolytic (condensed phase) and metalcatalysed thermolytic (vapour/solid phase) techniques have led to the production of novel carbon, boron nitride, silica and silicon nahotubes and nancilibres with intriguing structures. New studies of composite materials have recently been initiated. Advanced materials behaviour has been detected and fascinating fundamental insights into the formation mechanism have been. The applications promise of these materials ranges across civil engineering structures with incredible strength, super low-loss electrical conductors and optoelectronic componentsenough to make pocket supercomputers possible. However if this promise is to be realised nothing less than a complete revolution in the synthetic strategies.


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