All materials are made of atoms, and our fundamental understanding of their properties begins with the atomic scale. Atoms are all about the same size, about 0.1 nanometers. The size of molecules ranges from about 0.1 nanometer for simple molecules and up to about 50 nanometers for complicated biological macromolecules such as proteins and enzymes. Applying chemical and crystal growth techniques we are able to design and synthesize new forms of matter atom by atom. Only certain configurations of atoms are stable, and the challenge is to find suitable chemical pathways to assemble the atoms in the desired form.
Building complex systems at the nanoscale level could lead to revolutionary advances in technology and our fundamental understanding of the natural world. Electronic devices small enough to display quantum phenomena - e.g. carbon nanotubes and quantum dots - could lead to the development of phase coherent quantum electronics, and perhaps ultimately quantum computers with exponentially increased computational power. That is just one example of the potential of complex nanoscale systems. There are also countless potential biological, medical, and other applications that could result from this area of study.
The successful fabrication and study of nanoscale systems requires more than just sophisticated experimental facilities. It requires the collective expertise of scientists and engineers from many fields of science cooperating at the intersection of their respective disciplines. Physicists, biologists chemists, engineers, and medical researchers will need to work together in order to solve the complex riddle of matter at the nanoscale.
The new science opportunities at the intersection between the sciences promises great intellectual returns and potential benefits to society.
This section will serve to highlight some of the cutting edge of cross- and inter-disciplinary research going on using CNS facilities, expertise, and resources.
For an interesting article in the January - February 2005 issue of Harvard Magazine describing nanoscience at Harvard including profiles of the research of 5 CNS Associated Harvard faculty members, click here.